Theft Hits Bottom Line of Canadian Retailers

By Mario Toneguzzi

Retail security expert Stephen O’Keefe says many independent retailers don’t really have a grasp on how to control loss prevention through theft and that’s hitting their bottom line.

  Stephen O’Keefe

Stephen O’Keefe

O’Keefe, President of Bottom Line Matters, a web-based loss prevention and risk management solutions company, based out of Toronto, for small to mid-sized retailers, has had many years of experience with some of the giant retailers in Canada and globally.

“There’s a lot of independent retailers which is what I am going to be focusing on now who don’t really have a grasp on how to control it because they don’t understand the magnitude of the problem,” said O’Keefe. “That’s something that every once in a while is a bit of a shocker. It’s the magnitude. It’s a $5-billion problem in Canada.

“The larger retailers - about 95 companies - have identified it and they’ve been able to put in loss prevention departments and so they spend the money because they know there’s going to be a return on investment from having a permanent loss prevention department. But that’s because of the size. So they’re able to afford it.”

For mid-size retailers, it’s a challenge. They don’t want to incur more of an expense than they’re going to get back because that in itself becomes a loss.

“Independent retailers are always looking for the silver bullet and there’s no one solution to the problem,” said O’Keefe. “But there is a common denominator with both of the categories. And the two categories specifically in terms of the crime part is internal theft and external theft. There’s another portion that’s administrative errors.”

  Photo:  Asian Trader

Because there’s no silver bullet, O’Keefe tells independent retailers when it comes to external theft that they have to look at what’s causing the loss or why customers are being able to get away with it. The one thing that can prevent a customer from stealing is “aggressive hospitality” or customer service.

“And the reason why is because customers who are not professional shoplifters will steal when they find that there’s the unique circumstances where they don’t feel that risk of exposure. Where they feel that they can get away with the crime. And that’s opportunity,” said O’Keefe.

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“So you have to remove the opportunity by putting in this fear of exposure and that’s eye contact, customer service basically.”

How do you combat employee theft?

“It’s this notion of engagement for the emotional connection, attachment, commitment that you have to another. In this case, an organization,” said O’Keefe. “Employees who are engaged and companies that measure engagement levels find that productivity goes up, profits go up, accidents go down because people are more diligent, and shrink goes down because people aren’t stealing from you because they’re connected to you.

“So if you want to use the term silver bullet, what’s the silver bullet for employees? Engagement. Keep them engaged . . . If you spend money serving customers and engaging employees, you will without doing anything have a reduction in your shrink.”

O’Keefe was Walmart Canada’s VP Loss Prevention & Risk Management for 15 years. He currently advises on loss prevention affecting shrinkage and profitability for retailers and has more than 30 years experience in retail theft prevention with some of Canada’s largest retailers.

He is considered a leading authority on loss prevention, security, risk management, health and safety and process improvement.

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Before establishing his own consultancy firm, O’Keefe held a variety of loss prevention management positions with Sears Canada, Zellers, The Hudson's Bay Company and Walmart Canada.

In 2016, he was awarded the Retail Council of Canada’s Loss Prevention Lifetime Achievement Award.

“Thanks to his deep understanding of retail loss prevention, Stephen was instrumental in helping enact legislation that assisted retailers in sharing relevant information relating to criminal activities. While doing so, Stephen involved all stakeholders to ensure the outcomes would benefit the communities we serve,”  said Diane J. Brisebois, President & CEO of Retail Council of Canada, at the time of the award.

 Stephen O'Keefe. 

Stephen O'Keefe. 

“Throughout his career, Stephen has been a passionate advocate for retailers and a visionary leader, dedicated to fighting fraud in the retail industry. I can think of no one more deserving of this special honour,” said Rita Estwick, Director of security Strategy at Canada Post and recipient of the inaugural Loss Prevention Lifetime Achievement Award.

His LinkedIn profile says: “As an independent consultant, I leverage my experience and knowledge to help a number of companies achieve results. Clients range from non-retailers looking for guidance to serve their retail customer to retailers looking for quick solutions to unique and costly problems, right to the Industry Association.

“Unnecessary expenses related to crime, safety issues and non-compliance with regulations or operational standards can be devastating to any company. Learning from the experience of others has always been the secret to the success of many great companies. In this capacity, I bridge the knowledge gap and provide solutions that matter to my clients - just the bottom line.”

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Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary has 37 years of experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, city and breaking news, and business. For 12 years as a business writer, his main beats were commercial and residential real estate, retail, small business and general economic news. He nows works on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training. Email: mdtoneguzzi@gmail.com

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Mario Toneguzzi

Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary has 37 years of experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, city and breaking news, and business. For 12 years as a business writer, his main beats were commercial and residential real estate, retail, small business and general economic news. He nows works on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training. Email: mdtoneguzzi@gmail.com.