Holiday spending between November and December is projected to reach record levels this year. According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), we will see a 3-4% increase in spending over 2022 that will result in nearly $967 billion in sales. That’s great news for shop owners, but it unfortunately overlaps with something else that has reached record levels – retail theft.
In many ways, small businesses suffer most from retail theft. They simply lack the resources to combat it in the ways that bigger brands can. And during the holidays, 54% of small businesses report an increase in shoplifting. Thus, everyone – no matter the size of the business – needs to be able to detect, deter, and mitigate the negative impact of this crime. As we enter the peak shopping season of the year, let’s look at the rise in retail theft along with ways business-grade WiFi and technology can help protect your business.
Impact on small businesses
Theft in all its forms – everything from individuals shoplifting to bigger organized “smash-and-grabs” – is brutalizing the retail industry. The NRF reports that stores have suffered $112.1 billion in losses this past fiscal year alone. The national news covers stories on how crime has shut down commercial centers of cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco.
However, it would be a mistake to think that retail theft is a big city problem. Or a big business problem. “The effects of these criminal acts are not isolated to large national brands or large metropolitan cities,” states the NRF in its 2023 Retail Security Survey. “Daily media reports show that no business is immune and these issues touch retailers of all segments, sizes, and locations across the United States.”
Though retail theft comes in many forms, one of the most insidious for small businesses is shoplifting. A 2021 survey of small businesses revealed:
- 23% of small business owners experience shoplifting on a daily basis
- 25% of small business owners experience shoplifting on a weekly basis
As a result, small businesses try various tactics to battle theft:
- 45.3% reduced operating hours
- 29.7% altered/reduced product selections
- 28.1% closed a location
“Retailers are seeing unprecedented levels of theft coupled with rampant crime in their stores,” says David Johnston, Vice President of Asset Protection and Retail Operations for the National Retail Federation. “And the situation is only becoming more dire.” Small businesses must do whatever they can to protect themselves.
Technology is often the great equalizer. It can empower small businesses in many ways, from marketing opportunities to security. Not surprisingly, the NRF reports that 52% of businesses have increased their budgets this year toward technology and software as part of their security solution.
For those of you who don’t think business-grade WiFi makes a difference, read on. To start, business-grade WiFi supports multiple networks, which in retail can be dedicated to point-of-sale (POS) systems, business operations (computers, printers, phones), employees, and guest WiFi for customers. This segmentation helps protect your business in multiple ways.
Business-grade WiFi supports the following solutions that help battle the rise in retail theft.
Even before we discuss protecting the physical store, it’s vital to protect sensitive customer and transaction data. Business-grade WiFi networks possess advanced security protocols to safeguard this information from theft or hacking. Meraki Go’s Router Firewalls, for example, block websites, prioritize bandwidth, and set usage limits across the network. So whether working in the store or remotely, administrators get complete visibility into who is using the network and how it is being used. This protects the owner, employees, and customers at all times.
As mentioned, one of the biggest benefits of business-grade WiFi is the ability to segment your network. This keeps your business operations – from financial transactions to online activity – separate and apart from your customers. Offering secure guest WiFi minimizes the risk of unauthorized access to your store’s systems. We explore the many benefits of guest WiFi on the blog.
With business-grade WiFi you can also often get behavior analytics on your customers. This might mean tracking customer movement within the store, which can help identify suspicious activity. Or, with something like Meraki Go’s Guest Insights, you can discover your business’ busiest times though the day and week which allows you to adjust your staffing and security accordingly.
Mobile point-of-sale (mPOS) systems
One of the recommendations from experts is to locate your cash register/point-of-sale near the front door so that criminals have a harder time leaving the store undetected.
In addition, experts go even further by recommending mobile point-of-sale (mPOS) systems. We’ve looked at some of the best options for small businesses here on the blog. By using business-grade WiFi to enable mPOS, you allow staff to complete transactions anywhere in the store. This keeps your employees moving through the space and their eyes on all customer activity.
Security cameras and surveillance used to be out of reach for small businesses, but now there are many affordable options to consider. Cameras – and advertising their use to customers throughout a store – can help deter theft.
Further, you can record all the activity in your business to provide evidence if needed. Business-grade WiFi can support high-definition video streaming, which ensures that surveillance footage is clear and makes it possible to identify suspects.
Business-grade WiFi also allows retailers to monitor security cameras remotely. Store owners or employees can access live video feeds and recordings from anywhere, which can improve the response time to any crime.
Sensors and alarms
Business-grade WiFi networks also support sensors, which can give you greater control over your business. The variety of these devices continues to grow; there is currently everything from motion sensors to glass breakage sensors available for small businesses. Door censors can help ensure that some spaces are for authorized personnel only.
In the event of unauthorized entry or suspicious activity, business-grade WiFi can also support alarm systems, which provide real-time alerts to employees and security services. There are also even wireless panic buttons that allow for a rapid response to theft.
Your team is often the greatest protection against shoplifting and other types of theft. They can help prevent it, potentially stop it, and then identify criminals if needed. For all of this, training is essential. Your staff can learn how to manage customers – such as in the dressing room, near more valuable merchandise, and at the cash register – and become more sensitive to detecting suspicious behavior. In addition, training tends to be updated so everyone remains aware of the most common shoplifting techniques.
During the holidays, 54% of small business owners report an increase in shopliftingBusiness.org 2021 Small Business survey
Employee training is the key to giving your team exposure to crime without putting them in any danger. Training can be done via virtual classes, which range in their intensity. Some simply offer basic information whereas others embrace virtual reality to give employees the most realistic experience possible.
The training should test your employees to make sure they really understand what to look for – especially during peak times of the day and year – and what to do if and when theft occurs.
As you can see, business-grade WiFi empowers so many aspects of security for retailers today. Meraki Go can be a partner in that security for your small business. Our WiFi 6 indoor and outdoor access points support up to 100 connected devices, which can include everything from mPOS devices to security cameras. Our Router Firewall Plus offers both client and site-to-site VPN, which increases your store’s overall security and allows your team to securely connect to business resources from anywhere.
Business-grade WiFi is one component of your security and retail theft prevention strategy. Retailers should also invest in store layout optimization and other measures to create a comprehensive theft prevention system.
Business.org 2021 Small Business Survey
Los Angeles Police Department
National Retail Federation 2023 Retail Security Survey
Public Policy Institute of California