One of the key objectives to any retail security program is preventing shrinkage throughout the system, from the time suppliers ship products through distribution centers and on to each individual store. While retailers are predominantly successful in securing merchandise until it enters their possession in the DC, it is precisely once the inventory is within their possession that it becomes vulnerable to a wide range of harder-to-thwart threats.
Retail security professionals typically implement a basic security seal program to enhance accountability throughout the supply chain and reduce the risks. However, too many retailers secure bins, totes, boxes, and even trucks with uniquely numbered seals - but without an auditing system in place for validation. Such programs are merely window dressing, and far from a serious deterrent to unscrupulous employees seeking to help themselves to company merchandise.
An effective auditing system insists upon a process by which the integrity of the seal is confirmed every time possession is transferred, usually as simple as requiring the receiver to confirm the security of the inventory, sign for it, and be held accountable for it. An audit trail of seal numbers, chain-of-custody transfers signatures, and corresponding inventory counts system needs to be carefully recorded and visibly checked by management to reinforce the message that every single inventory item matters. Demanding accountability encourages and rewards security-oriented employees, and has the added benefit of improving overall vigilance.
But even with consistent auditing and clear accountability, a vulnerability to theft remains. Criminals determined to steal often plan ahead and, after removing the merchandise, replace broken seals with counterfeit seals. Sometimes, in cases of poorly vigilant companies, thieves will simply help themselves to other legitimate company seals and use them to make the containers appear secured. Such scenarios are frequent with high-value goods, such as electronics or pharmaceuticals, which offer high rewards to criminals for the additional risk. In such cases, a basic auditing system may not be enough to detect pilferage sufficiently to deter the culprits.
There are, however, several easy-to-implement strategies that can quickly and substantially improve the overall effectiveness of seals in securing company merchandise. These best practices serve to increase accountability within the system, as well as reduce opportunities for theft.
One common method is to replace plastic seals with metal barrier seals that require a removal tool. Although this is a more expensive option, particularly for high-volume seal users, metal seals are far more effective at thwarting casual and opportunistic thieves, while serving as a stronger deterrent for more determined criminals.
Still, there are many other ways to improve security without dramatically increasing the cost of the security seal.
To begin, treat your inventory of unused seals like cash. A misappropriated authentic seal is all that's needed to introduce uncertainty into your auditing system. Operate under the working assumption that any seal that goes missing translates into lost inventory. Store seals where access is restricted, and initiate the audit trail by requiring employees to sign out seals by number.
Next, consider elevating the uniqueness of your seal by imprinting your company logo on each seal. Many companies use similar generic seals, and by visually differentiating your seal, you sharply increase the level of difficulty for a thief to substitute an identical seal without detection by other employees, who are very familiar with your company logo.
Another way to thwart potential seals counterfeiters is to insert a barcode, either standard 2D or QR, on each seal, and require authentication of the barcode as part of the audit trail. To further prevent piracy, hide a digit within the bar code, lowering the chances of an outsider producing a seal that will successfully elude detection.
Some companies narrow the window of opportunity of potential unauthorized seal replacement by changing seal colors with significant but random frequency. Others pursue the uncommon practice of printing on both sides of the seal, where possible, knowing full well that two-sided printing is uncommon and cost prohibitive in small quantities. Extremely security-conscious professionals combine several of these deterrents by frequently changing colors on two-sided printed seals which include logos and barcodes.
As a general rule, counterfeiting of seals can be most effectively countered by continually making slight, but visible changes to the seal design. Too many changes to your seals at too many intervals can create visual chaos, making it more challenging to detect improper seals. Rotating in new design features, however, such as the seal color, placement of the logo, or the font of the serial number can enhance the likelihood of employees detecting counterfeit seals at transfer points.
To summarize, operating a basic security seal program is smart, but is really just lays the groundwork for making seals an effective tool for reducing inventory theft and shrinkage. An important second stop is to implement auditing and visual strategies system-wide. This will increase employee accountability and vigilance, reduce your exposure to counterfeit seals, and in doing so, improve your bottom line.