Loss Prevention

Before you know it the holiday season will be over and then the return fraud season begins. It is a time of year when shysters attempt to return merchandise that may have been stolen, used and put back into its packaging (also called Wardrobing), bought with stolen credit cards or bought with counterfeit or stolen money. So be sure that this season you have a solid return policy in place and that all of your employees are trained on how to handle any returns that may come their way.

Here are a few suggestions about how to handle returns in your store:

  • Have a defined return policy in place and make it clearly visible to the customers. Be sure that, especially during the holiday season, that you explain your return policy when a customer makes a purchase.
  • Be sure your employees know what is on the return policy and train them on how to handle returns. Also keep them informed on the possibility that a return could be fraudulent and how to handle such a return if they suspect that it is.
  • Be consistent with your policy and don’t make exceptions.
  • Give out store vouchers instead of cash when possible. If a customer wants to return an item, attempt to give them a store voucher for the amount of the purchase in place of cash. This way you can track the vouchers given out and it helps deter people from returning stolen goods for cash. Most legitimate customers won’t have a problem with this.
  • If a customer does insist on a cash return, require a receipt and ID. This helps insure that the people returning the item actually bought it and you can make a note of who they are to see if they have a pattern of buying and returning merchandise.

While you will have to walk a fine line between offering customers the best service and keeping the miscreants at bay, by being upfront about your policies it will go a long way to keeping both you and your customers happy. Unfortunately attempting to stop return fraud will be ongoing throughout the year, but with a clear return policy in place it will help take the headache out of the process.

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Left in the dark?

We’d all love perfectly sunny weather all the time but let’s face the fact that bad weather comes along. While most weather is mild, when severe weather does hit do you know how to handle it? It’s a good idea to have a plan and instruct your employees on how to handle a power outage or in an extreme case, where to seek shelter.

Be sure there are flashlights at designated areas throughout the store. It’s a good idea to keep flashlights at the checkout, in the office, and back room, and to let all employees know where they are located. While emergency lights should kick on in the event of a power outage, they are usually only located above the exits and can cast dark shadows across the store making walkways difficult to see. Employees equipped with flashlights can help any customers in the store find their way around and keep them from getting injured.

Check on your customers. Secondary to grabbing the nearest available flashlight, walk through the store and make sure all of your customers aren’t in any distress. They’ll be wondering what to do with no power in the store and it’ll be up to you to let them know everything is all right. Especially check the bathrooms as well, these can become pitch black in the event of a power outage and customers could find themselves in an embarrassing situation.

Equip essential electronics with a battery backup. Put your POS system on a battery backup in case you lose power. This will allow you to complete any sales and prevent damage to the system by allowing it to shut down properly. If there are customers wanting to check out and the registers no longer work, have a calculator to total the sale and paper and pen handy to write down the transaction. Be sure to instruct your employees how to handle sales in the event the registers aren’t working.

You may have to close the store. If the lights go out you’ll want to contact your utility company to find out an estimated time it will take for the power to be restored. If it is over an hour you may want to consider closing the store for the time being. You’ll also want a sign on the entrance to the store letting everyone know why you’re closed during regular business hours.

Know where to find shelter. Finally, if a storm does escalate to the point you need to find shelter by all means have a plan and inform your employees. Designate a few employees to walk through the store and instruct any customers where to go in the emergency. Don’t let anyone leave the store and keep customers away from the windows for their safety.

It really all comes down to planning though. Training your employees how to react to a power outage will keep your store running smoothly no matter what the weather. The more calm and collected your employees are the more at ease your customers will be.

Your Image Says So Much

When a customer enters your store the first impression should be that they are walking into an environment where the workers and owner are proud of what they do and were they are. Here are a few things that can affect your image when customers visit your store.

The outside. Pay attention to the outside of your store. Pick up any trash that’s on the ground and see to it that the store windows are free of dirt and hand prints. Also, be sure that whatever can be seen from the outside of the store through the windows looks clean as well. Because the outside of your store is the first thing customers are going to see, it needs to look inviting to give them more incentive to walk inside.

Restrooms. Keep those restrooms clean and stocked with paper products. No one wants to walk into a bathroom with overflowing trash cans, no toilet paper, and soap dripping all over the sink. A disgusting bathroom tells customers that you don’t consider their hygiene or comfort to be of any importance which leads them to think that you don’t care about them. Be sure to check and clean the restrooms regularly and keep them a spotless as possible.

Stained  and dirty floors. While spills do happen, a messy floor makes the store look old and dirty. A dirty store is a sign that you don’t want to take the time to look after your own property and if you won’t take care of your own things, the customer is going to think you won’t take care of them either.  Have the carpets cleaned, professionally if possible, once a year at least and be sure to vacuum and sweep at least nightly to ensure the floors are looking as new as possible.

Flickering or burned out light bulbs. A flickering or burned out bulb is a common theme in a horror movie! No one wants to shop in a place like that. Plus, with bad lighting, items become harder to see and therefore harder to buy. Replace bulbs that are dim or burned out as soon as possible. No one wants to be worried about getting jumped by the boogie man in a dark corner of your store.

Messy aisles.  Be aware of messy aisles and any product out of place in your store. It’s a good rule of thumb to have an employee occasionally walk through the store to pick up any item left on the floor or put back anything that is where it doesn’t belong. This helps keep the store looking tidy and helps prevent theft.

Cluttered checkout counters. Don’t let workers stash their personal belongings behind or near the checkout counters. No coats, no drink cups, cell phones, or purses should be seen when a customer is checking out, those items are best left in the employee’s area. Also, if there are store items that need restocking or are broken and you leave them behind the counter simply because you didn’t have time to put them elsewhere, try instead to designate a nearby place to put them. You need to keep in mind that the checkout counter is where customers will stand in one place and have an even greater opportunity to look around your store. Where they are spending their money is going to be the place where your store gets the most scrutiny. If they see things are out of place and sloppy it can have a negative impact as to whether they’ll come back to the store again or not. Staying organized will let customers know that you’ve got your act together.

Hand written signs. If you are putting signage up in your store nothing says sloppy like a handwritten sign. Most people have access to a computer that can print out a decent looking sign. With a handwritten sign you run the risk of it being unreadable to some people and it looks like you didn’t plan ahead before putting it up. Unless you have amazing penmanship go with a computer printout, it looks more professional.

Baskets. No matter the size of the store, it is a good idea to invest in some shopping baskets at the very least. Having baskets located right inside the entrance encourages customers to buy more and lets them know you are looking to make their shopping an easier experience.

First impressions are important and keeping up with your store will give confidence to your customers that they have gone to the right place to spend their hard earned dollars.