The rise of UK loss prevention forums is giving businesses a new voice in the battle against retail crime, finds Alison Clements

If an aggressive shoplifting gang is operating in, say, Stoke or Middlesbrough and targeting fashion stores with a plan to sell stolen goods on the web, it helps if those store operators are talking to each other, and working out the quickest way to solve the issue. It’s also useful when approaching the Home Office or police with wider concerns to have many voicing fears about drug-related crime or the leniency of sentencing for shop theft than a lone one. That’s why Loss Prevention Forums - of which there are now three in the UK - are coming to the fore.

Specific action

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) is an excellent lobbying power when it comes to retail crime, and Town Centre Partnerships and Business Crime Partnerships play their part locally. But sector-specific collaborations can prove a powerful force, as the Fashion Loss Prevention Forum and newer Health, Beauty and Pharmacy (HBP) and Cafe and Hospitality Forums are finding.

Fashion Loss Prevention Forum chairman Richard Lawrence says: “If you are in the same market - in our case fashion - it’s incredibly helpful to talk to a group of fellow heads of loss prevention to share information and ideas, decide which issues need to be prioritised, and to avoid mistakes others have made when trying to protect staff and stock.”

Lawrence adds: “It goes down to a local level, too. We now have a mechanism to link together in times when a certain town is being hit with organised crime, so we might be using communication and CCTV images in a more collaborative way to gather evidence, bridging the gap between retailers, the police and Town Centre Partnerships.”

With the support of loss prevention specialists ORIS Group, the fashion forum, which was established four years ago, meets every two months, and has strong links with the Home Office, police forces, Town Centre Partnerships and, more recently, eBay.

The forum has 25 leading fashion retail groups including Next, Marks & Spencer, Aurora, Monsoon Accessorize, New Look and Peacocks, with further new participants on the horizon. Lawrence says: “Many members are involved in Business Crime Partnerships across the country and the feedback we collect from our members about the value they are getting from that involvement is proving useful. We are learning how partnerships are structured and what they are doing on our behalf, and we can go to them with a stronger voice if certain partnerships are felt to have problems, or if we have ideas about how to proceed.”

The fashion forum is also working with eBay and has set up a way for UK fashion retailers to enrol on eBay’s Procat scheme, which helps those that suspect sellers of handling stolen goods to investigate their activities on the site.

Tackling the issue of sentencing - particularly if police and The Ministry of Justice budgets are squeezed - will also be on the fashion forum’s agenda in the coming year, adds Lawrence.

In the hope of emanating the fashion group’s success, the HBP Forum was founded in March. Members include Lloyds Pharmacy, The Body Shop, Co-op, Spar, Holland & Barrett, John Lewis and Harrods. Their senior security managers meet for one day five times a year to network and share ideas, again facilitated by ORIS Group.

HBP forum chairman Paul Winstanley, also national operations manager for asset and profit protection at Co-op, says: “There’s recognition today that we are better off working together.” He adds: “We are different from fashion in that our sector deals with a broader selection of customers, some requiring specific care and attention. They might be drug addicts or prescription-carrying customers to whom we have a duty of care, for instance. We are dealing with high-value and high-demand stock that is often small and easy to conceal for thieves.”

Members have been gaining insights into where tagging works most effectively, tackling internal shrinkage and learning how to focus attention on the worst-hit branches and remedy problems rapidly. Members will also be invited to take part in counter terrorism unit training that will help people spot suspect devices and prepare retailers for how to cope in the event of aterrorist attack.

Gathering strength

Winstanley says interest in the forum is spreading, but there are understandable reasons why signing up isn’t for everyone. “Not every company has a UK head office so the policy on shrinkage management might be handled elsewhere,” he says.

He adds that some companies possibly lack understanding of what a forum can achieve. But he is positive: “The UK is a leader on this idea of collaboration, so I expect this forum and others to gather strength and influence in the coming years.”

BRC head of crime policy Catherine Bowen says the organisation’s relationship with retail loss prevention forums is strengthening. “The BRC is now committed to hosting bi-annual meetings for each forum and it is a great way to agree where the common issues are, and what our lobbying priorities should be. It’s very useful for us to tap into current concerns and better understand how retail crime is impacting operational issues day-to-day.”

Committed to the Cause

Fashion Loss Prevention Forum members:

All Saints, Arcadia Group, Aurora Fashions, Aquascutum/Jaeger, Monsoon/Accessorize, Banana Republic/Gap, Bank/JD Sports, Claire’s Accessories, Harrods, House of Fraser, John Lewis, Lifestyle Sports, Marks & Spencer, Matalan, New Look, Next, Nike, Peacocks, Polo Ralph Lauren, Republic, River Island, TK Maxx, USC

Health, Beauty and Pharmacy Forum members:

The Body Shop, The Co-op, Holland & Barrett/Julian Graves, John Lewis, Lloyds Pharmacy, Spar, Space NK