Loss prevention - The Role of Store Design in Amplifying Risk

Time to consume: 4 min
4 March 2021

Loss prevention and store design



The nature of the retail store is changing quickly, accelerated both by the consequences of the COVID Pandemic and a growing desire to reduce the amount of ‘friction’ shoppers experience to better compete with the growth in online shopping. While much of this change is focussed upon creating more conducive shopper environments and reducing retailer costs, the design of retail stores can also affect the amount of retail loss that is experienced – there is undoubtedly a balance to be struck between store design focussed on driving sales and store design that inhibits the likelihood of errant behavior occurring. Very often these twin goals can be difficult to align – reducing customer friction can sometimes come at the cost of increased retail losses. For instance, removing all the control barriers at store entrances and exits can create a more welcoming and free-flowing retail space, but it may also enable shop thieves to escape more quickly with more products. It is important, therefore, to ensure that store design takes account of both sides of the enhance sales/reduce losses equation.

Designing-out Crime

The way in which the design of buildings and spaces can have an impact on offending has a long track record, particularly in urban settings where it is known as Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) – an environment-behavior theory and methodology based on the proposition that enlightened architecture and site design deters criminal behavior and reduces fear of crime. As we know, retail stores are full of opportunities for crime and loss to occur, and ideally, retailers want to create environments where would-be offenders perceive the risk of being caught to be too high and are therefore deterred – their sense of risk is ‘amplified’ to the point where they decide to desist. This is the best outcome for retailers – it is much cheaper to deter criminals than it is to detect, apprehend and then prosecute them – ‘arresting’ your way out of a retail loss problem is rarely a desirable nor sustainable strategy to adopt.

Good design can help to deliver this deterrent-focussed approach, seeking to amplify the perceived sense of risk in the would-be offender’s mind. Indeed, interviews with criminals have highlighted the role that store design can play in changing their decision making, driving them to reflect upon three key questions: ‘Can I be seen, if I am seen will I be noticed, and if I am seen and noticed, is anybody going to do anything about it?’. This highlights one of the most important aspects of good store design when it comes to amplifying risk – the extent to which stores can be surveilled. This can be broken down into three types: natural surveillance (where all users of space have the ability to see what is happening); organized surveillance (where staff have the ability to look out for offending); and mechanical surveillance (where devices such as cameras extend the ability to detect offending).

Store Design Best Practice

A number of studies have been undertaken to try and understand how store design can be improved to increase risk amplification. The key points can be summarised as follows:

  • Enable staff to exercise surveillance.
  • Reduce the number of exits, blind corners, and recesses.
  • Provide good, even lighting.
  • Eliminate clutter and obstructions.
  • Place (high risk) goods away from entrances and exits.
  • Create clear sightlines in aisles and reduce the height of displays.
  • Reduce crowding near displays of high-risk items.
  • Move hot products into higher-security zones with more staff surveillance.
  • Control the use of entrances and exits.

Self-checkout and Store Design

Retail has seen dramatic growth in the use of self-checkout technologies (SCO), particularly in grocery stores. These systems have been found to increase the opportunities for losses to occur and retailers are now looking at various ways to more effectively manage the risks associated with these systems. One way is to look at the design of the SCO environment, in particular, creating ‘zones of control’ where users feel they are entering an area of enhanced risk amplification. This has included creating entrance corrals, using overt public video display monitors, having the capacity for SCO supervisors to remain in close proximity to users at all times, and the application of exit control gates. While there is still a dearth of published information on the effectiveness of this approach to manage SCO-related losses, previous research on CPTED would suggest there is much merit in adopting this type of design strategy.

The Value of Store Design – A Neglected Concept?

When it comes to the control and management of retail losses, it is very easy to conclude that the ‘answer’ is in the appliance of science – that newer and newer technologies will enable retailers to fix this problem. Undoubtedly, new technologies are emerging that may well play a key role in ensuring retail businesses do not become overwhelmed by the negative impact of retail losses. However, there is also plenty of evidence to show that investing in good design can also make a significant difference, especially where that design can not only enhance the shopping experience but also help to amplify risk and consequently better control losses – getting the balance right between selling and security may well be all in the design.