Tim O’Callaghan is a partner in Druces LLP, specialising in advice to the fashion and luxury goods business. In this month’s column, he discusses how lingerie retailers can protect their stores from theft.
The recent case, reported by Lingerie Insight, of a Victoria’s Secret employee who managed to steal some £18k worth of lingerie by ‘wearing it home’ will have caused as much alarm to intimate apparel retailers as it did joy to tabloid writers who went into gleeful overdrive with reports of the ‘knicker nicker’.
Those without a direct interest in Victoria’s Secret can perhaps be excused a wry smile at the fate of the lingerie behemoth, which (usually) seems to run things so efficiently. Also, rather like the Hatton Garden jewel heist, the theft of such an improbable amount of lingerie by one person displays some ingenuity and guile that tends to amuse the public. However, such thefts are not so amusing if it is your intimate apparel business that is the victim. The case brings to mind again the need for vigilance on the part of lingerie retailers.
Protection against theft by staff
It is particularly painful for retailers to suffer theft by someone that you trust and yet for many retailers, unfortunately, employee theft if more prevalent that shoplifting. As to your employees, no amount of contractual clauses in an employee’s contract can prevent such theft. If caught, employees know (of should know) that it amounts to gross misconduct and may result in the employee’s immediate dismissal without notice. As with shoplifting, there are various common-sense measures that can help intimate apparel retailers minimise the risk of employee theft.
The first measure is to recruit staff who are trustworthy. This can be easier said than done, but following up references on potential candidates should be a must in any recruitment process.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has produced best practice guidance on background checks in its Employment Practices Data Protection Code (the Code). The Code recommends that:
1. The employee or candidate is informed of the background searches and checks that the employer proposes to undertake.
2. The employee or candidate is given the opportunity to comment on the accuracy of the results of any search or check.
3. The employer ensures that any searches or checks are proportionate, both in relation to their intrusiveness when balanced against the nature of the risks which the role entails, and the point in the recruitment process when the check is undertaken. Checks should therefore be undertaken as late as possible, and not performed on all candidates.
4. Where the review of online profiles occurs during employment, the employer should conduct an impact assessment and ensure that the monitoring is adequate, relevant, not excessive, and proportionate to the risk identified.
Viewing social media to glean certain types of information about a candidate is unlikely ever to be proportionate, or justified.
The next precaution to take is to monitor staff, both by CCTV and unannounced visits to the shop to check up on things. Staff should know that they are being monitored and an appropriate clause should be drafted into their contracts that both informs them of the monitoring and tells them what the information gathered during the monitoring process will be used for (security).
In the very unpleasant instance of knowing or strongly suspecting that a member of staff has been stealing from you it is important, even if the evidence appears to you to be overwhelming, to go through a proper disciplinary process with the employee.
If you don’t, and you dismiss an employee on the spot, without giving the employee an opportunity to give their side of the story, you risk being at the wrong end of an unfair dismissal claim.
Shoplifting by customers
Perhaps even more prevalent than theft by employees is theft by customers. Many security firms offer advice on preventing shoplifting and can give staff-training in security and tips on how to spot shoplifters. These tips represent sound common sense but they are worth repeating. Staff should watch out for customers who:
• Avoid eye contact;
• Appear nervous;
• Wander the shop without buying;
• Repeatedly leave and return to the shop;
• Linger in locations that staff have difficulties monitoring;
• Keep an eye on store employees and other customers;
• Behave in other suspicious ways.
Other practical measures are to have CCTV cameras filming the shop floor, with signs notifying shoppers that they are being filmed and a further sign stating that shoplifters will be prosecuted. These security features may well jar with the boudoir image of your retail space, but they may save you money in preventing shoplifting, and worse, theft by your own employees.