December is historically one of the busiest months for retailers as Americans navigate the bustling holiday shopping and post-holiday return seasons. 

As retailers approach the final stretch of this shopping blitz, they must prepare to address heightened risks of organized retail crime (ORC) and smash-and-grab incidences. 

Retailer concerns over ORC are already at an all-time high given that crimes have become more frequent and more violent. Shoppers, too, are more afraid for their personal safety than before. Nearly 50% of people worry about their car being broken into or stolen, and 37% fear being mugged. 

Given the large number of shoppers out and about during the holidays, there is a unique opportunity for bad actors. Stores and vehicles are full of inventory in order to accommodate higher shopper demand. New employees may not be fully trained to identify suspicious activity. And darker days give potential criminals more cover to commit nefarious acts.  

Retailers need to prepare for these potential events and have a safety strategy to protect their customers, employees and bottom line.

How holiday smash-and-grab perpetrators operate

ORC perpetrators are often highly organized and can spend weeks planning. Smash-and-grab criminals, however, may act more spontaneously and rely on chaos to distract security professionals and make their getaway.

Retailers should adapt their playbooks to prevent theft to address the unique way that smash-and-grabbers work during the holidays. Following are a few things we know about how they operate:

  • They’ll park illegally before committing a vehicle smash-and-grab so they can get in and out quickly. 
  • Holiday thieves will frequently target visible items and merchandise that are easily accessible.
  • Smash-and-grab criminals often aim to acquire as many valuable items quickly and then make a rapid escape, unlike traditional ORC offenders who use more deceptive tactics to steal merchandise and slip out undetected. 

5 tips for preventing holiday smash and grabs

As with all shrink-reduction strategies, the goal is to keep customers, employees, and bystanders safe. In some instances, that could mean merely keeping calm and complying — which makes it even more important to have surveillance in place to record details and catch perpetrators after the act. 

The following tips can help retailers deter crime during the holiday season:

Bolster curbside service

Keeping a visible and active presence in the parking lot can deter potential bad actors. Retailers should thoroughly train their staff for both in-store and curbside service so team members can effectively survey all store locations and understand the risks associated with each area. Hiring additional security personnel, especially to monitor the parking lot, is a smart investment during the holidays. 

Intentionally route traffic

Remembering that perpetrators often park illegally before stealing, it can be helpful to redirect the flow of traffic in your parking lot by installing security barriers or temporary measures. The goal is to easily identify people who may be acting suspiciously and force criminals to reassess if the effort is worth the risk. 

Implement parking lot security surveillance

Due to the random nature of this issue, retailers need to ensure that surveillance equipment is updated and cleaned. Cold weather and rainy or icy conditions can distort video quality. Although cameras don’t always deter crime, usable images of the event can help with prosecution later. Intelligent video analytics can be used to call out distinct patterns that these bad actors leave and add to a store’s collective intelligence on theft prevention. 

Rethink store displays

Criminals want to act quickly before making their escape. Assess your store layout and how items are displayed, including how easy it is to reach and remove high-value items. Consider limiting the stock available on shelves and moving expensive merchandise further back in the store or away from windows and exits. Hiding inventory behind store signage or displays could make it harder to steal. If possible, install shatter-resistant glass to prevent or delay potential theft.

Encourage walking in groups

Employees should park close together and walk out with each other after their shift. If a team member is scheduled to leave alone, have an employee escort them to their vehicle. Groups can deter violent crimes in parking lots. 

Keep shoppers and employees safe this holiday season

There is no sole way to stop criminals, but retailers can make the experience much more difficult and greatly increase their likelihood of being caught. 

Keeping stores well-staffed and training all employees on loss prevention strategies is an essential place to start. Retailers can bolster their strategy by adopting technologies and systems that can monitor for bad actors, alert security personnel and record details to help law enforcement catch criminals for good.