In a time of economic uncertainty, retail employers are looking to expand their loss-prevention teams.
"In a weakened economy, the rate of retail theft increases," says Fred Warren, a former loss-prevention specialist at the Hadley, Massachusetts, TJ Maxx store. "People are more prone to steal in a troubled economy."
If you have a passion for retail and an interest in criminal justice, this in-demand field may be for you. Consider loss prevention's perks and downsides.
What Do Loss-Prevention Specialists Do?
Loss-prevention specialists watch over the sales floor to prevent shoplifting and changing of price tags. They may patrol on foot in full uniform to act as a theft deterrent, or they may dress in street clothes and pretend to be customers as they look for what's commonly called "the steps."
Various "step" behaviors indicate someone is moving toward theft, Warren says. For example, shoplifters may select items that belong to the store, conceal the merchandise and walk past the cash register without paying.
As a loss-prevention specialist, you are also responsible for reducing employee-perpetrated store shrinkage. "This requires greater attention to detail, as there are many ways and opportunities for employees to affect the ‘store shrink' totals," Warren says. Employees manning cash registers could reduce an item's price for a friend or simply fail to ring up merchandise and place it in a bag. Employees may also try to perform fraudulent returns.
Skills and Qualifications
According to Kiersten Peterson, former HR associate at Macy's in Colonie, New York, retailers are particularly interested in candidates with a background or interest in criminal justice.
Weekend and evening work is common, so expect to be flexible with scheduling. "This job requires working any and all hours that the store is open, as well as prior to opening and until the last person has left the store," Peterson says.
Warren recommends asking potential employers if the job requires working in other locations. "Many companies expect employees to travel from store to store," he says. "A reliable vehicle is important."
But a willingness to work long hours isn't the only requirement. "Candidates must possess strong self-control and a high level of common sense," Warren adds. "Specialists may find themselves in tense situations in which the wrong words could place their personal safety in jeopardy."
As a loss-prevention specialist, things won't always go your way. For example, you may suspect that an individual has stolen from the store she works for, but she didn't follow the steps. Maybe you didn't see the employee actually select the merchandise from the sales floor, but your gut tells you she can't afford that $500 cashmere sweater. You know you can't approach the employee, even though you're confident you can get her to confess in the security office.
Moreover, "the slow times can be the most challenging times," says Warren. The clock can appear to stand still when you are on duty, particularly after the holidays.
You also must be prepared for anything. You may need to apprehend someone you know. This can be particularly stressful if it's a close friend or neighbor.
Look Before You Leap
Some businesses require their loss-prevention specialists to make a certain number of apprehensions each month. This can put a lot of pressure on you, which can lead to poor decisions.
Warren advises job seekers to look for organizations that focus more on your impact on overall store shrinkage. "This better reflects the job that is being done and allows the loss-prevention specialist more opportunity to help the store," he says.