The Christmas trading period is a time of mixed blessings for retailers – on one hand it can yield up to a quarter  of a retailer’s annual sales while on the other, it’s also the shoplifter’s busiest time of year. But shoplifters aren’t the only group who pose a threat to the retailer’s plans for a prosperous festive season, says Stephen Hoyle, director at security equipment manufacturer, Hoyles Electronic Developments.

According to recent figures employee theft has cost UK retailers millions so far this year, making it the second most costly form of retail crime behind customer theft, the bill for which runs to into millions. 

It may be something that retailers don’t like to talk about and understandably so, but stores need to be aware of the increased risk that employee theft poses to the bottom line, particularly at this time of year, and take action.

For most, the question of how to prevent staff theft is a sensitive one that must be given careful consideration since it has serious legal, as well as practical, implications. The deployment of covert CCTV cameras, for example, must adhere to strict data protection legislation. But there’s another problem with such secret tactics – if word gets out about CCTV, employer-staff relations can be damaged beyond repair, creating a culture of tension and mistrust.

Consequently, most retailers that I talk to are in favour of a more open and fairer approach to dealing with the problem of employee theft, such as implementing a clear stop and search policy. Of course, just as with surveillance methods, staff searches are governed by tight legal requirements and it’s vital to communicate your policy in writing to all staff so that they are fully aware of the process and the reasons behind it.

The next step is to obtain consent from employees; the most common method for doing so is to include a specific search clause within employment contracts stating that refusal to be searched will be treated as gross misconduct and may result in dismissal.

Once consent has been granted, you need to ensure that your stop and search policy is implemented as transparently and as fairly as possible so as to avoid potential accusations of discrimination, and this is where the right technology can add value.

There are certain niche security products on the market, such as Hoyles’ Stop n Search that are specifically designed to help retailers deal with the problem of employee theft. Some of the UK’s leading high street retailers currently use our products as an effective means of deterring dishonest employees from helping themselves to stock and cash, protecting their profit margins all year round.

Stop n Search devices are typically situated at the main staff entrance and exit points where they are wall mounted and clearly visible to all staff. Before staff are permitted to leave the premises, they are required to press a button on the Stop n Search. If a short bleep is heard then the employee can pass unhindered, but if the device emits a short series of rapid bleeps and gives a visual indication then this means that they have been selected at random to be searched.

The selection frequency is set up on installation but can be adapted to suit changing circumstances, such as in the run up to Christmas when instances of employee theft may peak or when employee numbers increase significantly due to an influx of seasonal workers. The selection frequency can be set as 2, 5, 10, 20, 30, 50, 70 or 90 per cent; if, for example, a selection frequency of 30% is used then 30 in 100 people would be selected randomly.

It’s impossible to control the randomness of the system or create a guessable pattern. Stop n Search generates a selection if the button is permanently pressed in order to deter users from trying to disable the system. A facility is incorporated to allow a ‘no search’ condition if security staff are unavailable to conduct a search but still want to give the impression that the system is in use. Full integration with access control systems is also possible.

Faced with tough trading conditions all year round, even in the run up to peak buying times, retailers must take measures to reduce the damage to their bottom line caused by employee theft. Implementing a random staff search policy is an effective way to stem the flow of loss caused by dishonest employees. Backing this up with specialist technology makes the process easier for management to control and also provides the fairest solution to all employees.