Preventing theft in the retail industry has been a poorly understood problem for decades. Everyone is a potential suspect and technology has only opened us up to a world of increased theft. This is a huge issue for retailers around the globe, and each day about $25 million worth of merchandise goes missing. There is an estimated 27 million shoplifters in America alone (or 1 in 11 people), and companies are only allocating more resources to their loss prevention teams.

FasTrax Solutions had the opportunity to sit down with the loss prevention team at Smokers Choice, a large tobacco retailer who uses FasTrax software, and ask them about some of the craziest theft incidents they’ve experienced. Like most tobacco retailers, Smokers Choice tracks inventory by using FasTrax’s Retail Solutions.

A good portion of Smokers Choice loss prevention tactics come from running reports in FTx Director, such as Negative Cashier Reports and Movement Reports. Watching sales trends and keeping an eye on negative cashier functions (void, cancel, return) alert them to any potential theft scenarios, which are then verified by checking security cameras. By pairing up incidents with the video footage, Smokers Choice has targeted events of theft and put a significant dent in their losses.

“Being able to create and run filtered reports is one of the most useful functions FasTrax offers,” says Kelly of the Loss Prevention team at Smokers Choice. Sitting down with her and other security personnel, we were not disappointed with the stories they told. Here’s what they had to say:

FasTrax: So, tell me about what you were doing before FasTrax.

Smokers Choice: Before we used FasTrax Solutions, we were doing everything by hand. Inventory counts, finances, ordering, etc. All of it was with pen and paper and was just a huge headache. When we started using FTx, it made our lives so much easier. We started running reports on negative actions and watching our movement data. When things didn’t add up, it was a lot easier to track our actions and find out where the mistake was made, or theft in some cases.

FasTrax: Did you find a lot of theft going on in the company before FasTrax?

Smokers Choice: Oh absolutely. Before we had FasTrax, we’d have inconsistent inventory counts weekly. One week we’d have 30 cartons of cigarettes missing, the next week it was 50. Some weeks we’d come up short on lotto tickets, and others we were over. It was so irregular that I brought the inventory papers to our boss and I was like, “we have to do something about this. We can’t be doing this by paper anymore!” That’s when we started using FasTrax.

FasTrax: What happened after you started using FasTrax?

Smokers Choice: For a lack of better terms, we started getting our act together. We started doing daily inventory counts with handheld scanners, and started to weed out some of the internal theft we had going on. A lot of people think that customers make up the majority of their loss, but fail to consider that their own employees could be stealing from them. We started running reports and looking for trends and things that didn’t add up.

FasTrax: You say you had internal theft, what are some specific incidents that you can remember?

Smokers Choice: I know that a lot of our theft came from employees canceling sales and then pocketing the cash. That’s why FasTrax’s Negative Cashier Reports are so helpful for us. When we see sales being made for big money but then abruptly canceled, we investigate. Other typical instances consist of “the borrowing system.” Employees will take money out of the register with the intent of paying it back, but don’t. They think if they don’t get caught that same day, they got away with it. We always have reports and video footage though, it never fails. Sometimes we’ll even have employees stage robberies or break-ins.

FasTrax: Employees have actually staged their own robberies?

Smokers Choice: Crazy, right? I remember a time in one of our New York stores that an employee staged a robbery. The employee had his friend duct tape him to a chair and proceed to steal things from the store. I’m not kidding, this actually happened! Police arrived to the scene and when we checked the security cameras, it was so obvious that it was fake. The employee was complying the entire time he was being duct taped to the chair and was actually telling the “robber” where to go and what to get! Incredible.

FasTrax: What about external theft? How have you dealt with that?

Smokers Choice: Don’t get me wrong, we have our fair share of external theft. We’ve had actual break-ins and robberies. We’ve had people break in through doors and windows. We’ve had people just take things and walk out. There’s not really a whole lot we can do other than calling the police and sending in video footage. I’m sure most retailers could relate to that. We’ve had a person walk into one of our stores and sneak into the back office with a duffle bag. They took maybe 15-20 cartons of cigarettes, which on average is probably around $100 each, and just walked out the front door. Employees of course noticed after the fact, and the guy and money was all lost.

FasTrax: What advice would you give other retailers who use FasTrax?

Smokers Choice: I’d tell them to take advantage of filtered reports in Director. It’s useful for so much more than loss prevention, movement data, negative actions, things like that. FasTrax does a really good job of updating their software to comply with various uses - even if it’s something that’s specific to your industry, like tobacco. Also, I’d tell them to use the handheld scanners! They make workflow so much smoother and allow your inventory counts to be digitized, more accurate, and updated in real-time.