The Investigation Software Company
Marks & Spencer Combat Theft
LONDON, England — The retail sector in the United Kingdom loses an estimated £600m each year from customer theft, much of it the work of organized professionals. To identify professional thieves and target resources against them, department store giant Marks and Spencer launched the Retail Crime Operation, an intelligence-driven crime fighting program in the summer of 1995.
The United Kingdom’s largest retailer is also joining forces with fellow retailers and police in order to provide information to the criminal justice system that was not previously available. This will help retailers distinguish the professional thieves from the rest.
With 286 stores in the UK, Marks & Spencer have a good understanding of the methods used by professional thieves and the cost to their business and the community. The company had amassed considerable data on theft from its retail stores. The Retail Crime Operation utilized that data to strike back at retail raiders.
The inspiration for the initiative was developed from the Metropolitan Police’s ‘Operation Bumblebee’ which identified major burglars and focused resources to deal with them all underpinned with good information. David Leigh, Head of the Retail Crime Operation for Marks & Spencer, set up this initiative which was ‘based on a tried and tested police response to crime, and applied it to shop theft’.
The Marks & Spencer team began the operation by reviewing historical data on the most costly incidents of theft in three central London stores. They identified 23 individuals who were known to have attempted to steal £36,000 in merchandise. The Metropolitan Police estimate that a thief is caught only once for every 20 times he or she escapes successfully. Over the long term then, these 23 thieves, identified by Marks & Spencer, had probably escaped with more than £700,000 in merchandise.
This initiative was set up with full support from the police. They suggested that Marks & Spencer set up a central intelligence office which they did in the company’s central London headquarters. All stores forward information on incidents of shop theft which is entered into the Retail Computer Crime database, which is connected directly to Watson®. This combination enabled the retailer to build onto the incident database and make more effective use of the information and intelligence.
Each store maintains a file on major offenders that includes photo-graphs to help store detectives, guards, closed circuit television (CCTV) operators and the police identify these individuals. Thanks to a recent court judgement (Hellewell v the Chief Constable of Derbyshire), retailers now have access to police photographs to help identify known and currently active shop thieves.
Marks & Spencer is also working closely with other retailers, town center managers and the police to develop strategies for the implementation and utilization of local information-sharing schemes. The key to the success of this concept is partnership. Marks and Spencer works with other retailers at national level (through, for example, the British Retail Consortium) and at local level to develop initiatives for the exchange of crime information.
Seven major retailers in Scotland have joined forces with the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland and the Scottish Office to form ‘Retailers Against Crime in Scotland’: the first national database to deal with retail crime. Until now, the vital intelligence that retailers hold has rarely been used effectively, if at all, to combat theft, according to Marks & Spencer. Retailers now realize that they are all falling victim to the same thieves. As information sharing increases, more professional thieves will be arrested, losses will be reduced and crime will drop, Marks and Spencer officials predict. David Leigh said ‘This is an area where retailers are not in competition with each other.’
Retailers expect the impact to be felt in town and city centers, as well as shopping centers, which will become safer for customers and retail staff alike. Information and intelligence sharing schemes are an important part of local retail crime strategies. Information sharing schemes individually will not be the answer to dealing with retail theft.
As part of a strategy that will include CCTV, radio link communications systems between store detective teams and the police, and exclusion order schemes, these will combine to reduce the opportunity for the professional thieves to operate. This is a proactive approach to dealing with shop theft and gives the police and the retail community an upper hand in tackling shop theft and other retail crime.
“The Xanalys Intelligence software gives Marks & Spencer the ability to pull together intelligence about an individual or team, for example their known associates, addresses, vehicles and modus operandi, such as distraction or violence, in order to understand more about the individuals we are dealing with,” said David Leigh.
“This whole approach is enabling the retail community and the police to focus on the most serious retail criminals. The Xanalys technology is enabling Marks & Spencer to use the intelligence we hold more effectively which is being passed to the police and the rest of the criminal justice system. This is beginning to impact on the way these individuals are dealt with and leading to a more appropriate response in sentencing and convictions.”