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Why Drugstores Lock Their Products Behind Plastic Cases

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Even everyday items such as deodorant, toothpaste, candy, dishwashing liquid, soap, and aluminum foil, most products on drugstore shelves are behind lock and key. , business is booming.

Locking shelves is a last resort for stores, but has never been so widely practiced. It’s also frustrating for shoppers and a source of frustration for some employees who have to walk around the store with their keys.

Paco Underhill, founder and CEO of Envirosell, a behavioral research and consulting firm, said: “It’s a cruel experience, even for merchants.”

The reason stores lock these items is simple. This is to prevent shoplifting. But these decisions are far more nuanced and complicated for stores than you might think. You have to walk a fine line in .

shoplifting in america

Until the early 20th century, it was common to lock products. When a customer entered the store, the clerk offered the desired product from behind the counter.

This changed when the first self-service stores, like Pigley Wiggly in the early 20th century, discovered that they could sell more and cut costs by spreading their merchandise across open floors.

Fewer employees in stores have increased profits for chains in recent decades, but in some cases, leaving stores without many visible employees to deter shoplifters is a crime-fighting strategy. experts say.

Although shoplifting has been practiced for centuries, it “came into full swing in America in 1965,” writes author Rachel Stier in Stealing: A Cultural History of Shoplifting. In 1965 he reported to the FBI that it was “the fastest growing form of theft in the nation”, which he had soared by 93% over the past five years.

Three years later, officials across the country said there had been a further surge in young teen shoplifting. became a department.

In response, the anti-shoplifting industry and corporate “Loss Prevention” (LP) and “Asset Protection” (AP) teams were launched. Technologies such as closed-circuit TV cameras, electronic article surveillance, and anti-theft tags have also emerged.

“Popular item”

According to Adrian Beck, who studies retail losses at the University of Leicester, stores are trying to protect a “significant few” of the most profitable products to sell. And they’re more than happy to steal more with lower-margin “small lots,” he added.

Shoplifters typically target small items with high price tags, called “hot items”, which retailers lock most frequently. A criminologist coined the apt acronym CRAVED to predict the highest risk.

Horrible locks and keys.

Items most commonly stolen from US stores include cigarettes, health and beauty products, over-the-counter medications, contraceptives, alcohol, tooth whitening strips, and other products.

Drugstores stock more products than other retail formats because they have a higher percentage of “hot items,” Beck said.

organized retail crime

There is only so much you can do to stop shoplifting. Businesses have banned retail staff from physically trying to stop shoplifters for their own safety and must find other ways to protect their merchandise.

This includes measures such as security tags on items that sound an alarm when someone leaves the house without paying. But this isn’t as valuable as it used to be, as alarms become part of the general cacophony of shop noise and are often ignored.

Stores also use strategies such as shelving that allow customers to have only one item at a time.This prevents shoppers from emptying entire shelves of products.

Locking products is the last step retailers take before removing products entirely, and stores say they are doing this more frequently. Because theft continues to increase.

There is no national database on shoplifting, it is often underreported and rarely prosecuted by stores and prosecutors.

Over-the-counter drugs such as eye drops are easy targets for shoplifters.

Retailers say organized retail crime will only exacerbate the theft problem. Criminal gangs often try to steal items from stores that can be easily and quickly resold on online marketplaces such as Amazon and other illegal marketplaces.

“There are more products locked up today,” said Lisa Labruno, senior executive vice president of retail operations for the Retail Industry Leaders Association. has grown so large: “Criminals can steal large quantities of products and sell them anonymously.”

Retailers have supported a bipartisan bill that would require online marketplaces to verify state-issued IDs for millions of high-volume third-party sellers. President Joe Biden has backed such measures and this week called on Congress to hold online marketplaces responsible for selling stolen goods on their platforms.

Amazon says it does not allow third-party sellers to list stolen goods and works closely with law enforcement, retailers and other partners to stop bad actors. .

A spokesperson said, “We routinely request invoices, purchase orders, or other proof of sourcing if we have concerns about how a seller obtained a particular product.

Frustrated Customers and Lost Sales

Unfortunately, many of these time-consuming anti-theft measures frustrate customers and reduce sales. The CEO of an anti-theft device company told Forbes that locking things up could reduce sales by 15% to 25%.

Shoppers today are more impatient. Some people buy products on Amazon instead of hanging out for workers.

“We’re trying to eliminate friction for our customers, but we’re also trying to prevent losses,” said Mark Stande, former vice president of asset protection for Kroger and other large retailers. “I get a lot of backlash from operations and merchandising teams for locking things down.”

Stores are working on new ways to lock products while reducing customer frustration, including new types of cases that employees can open with their smartphones.In other cases, shoppers open or scan QR codes. You will need to enter your phone number to

“Consumers understand why fur coats and jewelry need to be locked up. But consumers say, ‘Why should deodorants be locked up?'” LP Magazine co-founder Jack Trilica said.

Trilica hopes companies will develop new technology to protect their products, but without having to flag down employees to unlock shelves.

“Security products will evolve,” he said.