It doesn’t matter what kind of business you are— a restaurant, a clinic, or even an airport can be the victim of a robbery. But while robbers can strike any business, it’s retail establishments need to take particular care.
What is Robbery?
Robbery is defined as the unlawful taking of property from a person by force, or by threat of force. This is why robbery is defined as a violent crime, while shoplifting, burglary, and employee theft are not. It is also the type of theft that can have a huge impact both on employees and customers.
If people associate violence with a particular business or location, they will be less inclined to want to shop there. And employees who deal with the stress of potential violence in their workplace have less energy to focus on things like providing excellent customer service. The best employees may try to find work elsewhere as a result of a robbery, whether attempted or successful.
In 2015, there were 327,374 robberies in the United States, resulting in $390 million in losses. Over 40% of those robberies involved the use of a firearm.
All this being said, not every retail establishment is equally prone to robberies. There are several factors that make a business an attractive target to potential robbers.
What Qualities Make a Business a Target for Robberies?
There are four primary reasons that retail establishments are sought out robbers:
- The business uses cash registers
- The business sells or contains products that are easily turned into cash
- The business is open during the evening or night
- The business has few employees on duty
The very best targets, according to the Crime Prevention Service for Business at the School of Criminal Justice at Rutgers University, include
- Convenience stores
- Service stations
- Jewelry stores
- Liquor stores
In each of these examples, the business in question is likely to have either cash or something that can be easily transported and sold on the street. It’s quite possible that there are few employees on hand during a given shift, especially into the evening hours. And for those businesses that are open after dark, this also means that their most vulnerable shifts are taking place when there are few customers and even fewer pedestrians nearby. The fewer potential witnesses that are available, the more tempting a business looks from a robber’s perspective.
Robbery and Convenience Stores
It is those late hours that make convenience stores particularly attractive to robbers. With many convenience stores staying open late at night (or even 24 hours) with only one or two employees on staff and no scheduled bank run until the morning, the chance of a robbery is greatly increased.
And this is borne out by crime statistics. A full 6% of all robberies reported to police occur at convenience stores. The numbers increase further when you include those taking place at service stations. While the number of convenience store robberies has decreased since their peak in the 1980s (due largely to improved security measures), they still comprise an outsized percentage of retail robberies in the US.
Protecting Your Business from Robbery
Provide good visibility. Keep windows and counters clutter-free so that the public can see into the store. Keeping cash registers towards the front of the store and near a window also means that any potential robber would probably need to do so in full view of the public. Mirrors can also provide visibility, especially when your business has multiple entrances or hidden-away pockets between displays or down hallways.
It’s also important to think about clear lines of sight for security cameras. The last thing you want is to search for the video of a suspicious character, only to find that the view was blocked by a sign or display.
Install alarms. Silent alarms that can be triggered in the event of a robbery can not only call law enforcement but save lives. A robber with a firearm is less likely to resort to violence if they do not know that an alarm has been triggered. In addition to an alarm connected to local law enforcement, consider installing a “buddy alarm” with a neighboring business.
Quicker reaction times result when someone in the immediate vicinity is aware of what is going on and can respond immediately. And of course, your own business can return the favor, keeping the neighborhood as a whole safer and more secure.
Use surveillance cameras. Security cameras should be placed not only so they show the point of sale, but also any entrances, parking areas (in order to clearly show both vehicles and license plates), display cases containing expensive electronics, jewelry, or other small valuables, and any tucked-away areas that might not easily be seen by employees from their most common locations.
Install and maintain high-quality lighting. Keep the exterior of your store well lighted all the way around the building, the parking lot and storage areas. Keep lights on in the back of the store, not just the front. In communities where light pollution is a concern, switching to vertical burning luminaires—in which light pollution is controlled by aiming the light down towards the parking lot or walkway instead of dimming—can be used to keep the area brightly lit without negatively affecting the surrounding environment.
And of course, it doesn’t matter how powerful your lighting is if it is not working. Replace both interior and exterior lights as soon as you notice flickering or other signs that they are wearing out.
Don’t be predictable when it comes to cash. If it’s known that an employee makes a trip to the bank at a certain time of the day, that makes your business an easy target. Make bank trips frequent without keeping them on an easily recognizable schedule.
And make sure that employees understand that, while it’s good to be friendly and courteous to customers, sharing details about their upcoming schedules can be a security issue.
Keep your property in good condition. A business in poor condition is seen as a business that nobody cares much about—a prime target for a robbery. Keeping your facilities clean, your grounds landscaped and without litter, and your walls painted and graffiti-free all indicate that this is a store that takes itself seriously.
Even updating your signage on a regular basis has an impact. Of course, a good-looking store attracts customers— a busy location with lots of traffic is less attractive to robbers as well.
Post security-minded signage. If a store has taken steps to keep itself secure, such as limiting available cash or installing cameras and alarms, it is a good idea to advertise this fact. If you are a part of a neighborhood watch or similar local organization, this is also a fact that you’ll want to share prominently.
Train your staff to be security-minded. There is no substitute for human eyes when it comes to preventing robberies, shoplifting, and other crimes. Teach them to greet customers as they come into the store, making eye contact. Make sure they understand the purpose behind measures designed to improve securities. And ensure that they each receive training on how to respond in case a robbery should occur, which can dramatically impact the outcome.
There is no magic spell that can prevent retail robberies.
Unfortunately, as long as there are businesses making money, there will be people out there who are willing to use the threat of violence to take it. But through a combination of forward thinking and proactive measures, you can certainly stop your place of business from being an easy mark, making it a safer place for everyone.