Security Guards: Exploring innovations in the retail guarding model

Retailers spend millions, and some hundreds of millions on security guards. In our mini benchmark study, 81% of the thirty six retailers who responded shared that their budget for guards will increase and at least, stay the same over the next 12-18 months.

Yet retailers remain agitated about the role security guards play, and troubled by the difficulty in being able to accurately determine their return on investment.

Each year, we get a chance as a working group to hear from the retailers in the group and over 120 registered for this years meeting to swap notes and hear new ideas from their peers.

The full recording is available to retailers, if this is of interest, please send email to colin@ecrloss.com but in the meantime, please see below three of the topics we discussed and then a short video recap of the meeting with Professor Adrian Beck.

#1: Guards Vs Extra Store Associate Hours in Convenience Format?

Ask 100 convenience store managers whether they would prefer additional store associate labour hours or a security guard to help them reduce shrink, and you are likely to get an even split, it's not at all obvious to many store managers that security guards are the right first choice when resources are limited.

To test which of these choices delivered the better return on investment, one of the retailers in the group ran a trial in one hundred store and shared on the call their findings.

And the results proved that for this retailer, the gain in losses and sales did not cover the additional cost of the store associate hours, however the results from the extra security guard investment did, proving that delivering cover from opening to closing, lead to a gain in sales and loss that was greater than the cost of the the additional guarding hours.

Who knew that security guards grew sales? :)

#2: Community Guards.

In a breakthrough programme, Whole Foods USA retailer shared how they had moved from using armed security guards in uniforms in cities such as Chicago, to using plain clothed community guards in these very high risk stores.

To deliver this community guarding programme, Whole Foods partnered with a charity called "We Push for Peace" who support communities with mental health assessments and supporting resources, employment assistance (resume development, mock interviews, job placement) and pre-employment training (various workshops, skills training)

Their store based Community outreach guards focus on building up a rapport with the most prolific offenders, individuals that are in the most need of help.

Over time the guards are able to build the trust that is needed with those most in need of the help to the point where they ask for and accept help.

They act as a visible deterrent to theft, violence, and business disruption, with their guards trained in violence prevention and de-escalation techniques to provide a safer working and shopping environment.

This community guarding programme is now operating in seven states in USA, with over 150 guards.

The Whole Foods team presenting the case study shared in the meeting how this programme has helped those stores be and feel safer for their customers, with stores reporting lower shrink numbers.


#3: The Evergreen Dilemma: Internal or Third Party Guards

In the mini benchmark survey, 85% of the retailers shared that they were using third parties, so it was refreshing to hear from a retailer who was using their own internal guards.

Presenting their case, the retailer shared the many benefits that their business saw in the in-house model but they also shared the limitations, which were becoming more apparent as their business changed, from just one store format, to now multiple formats, including convenience stores.

Whether the retailer was using their own or third party guards, we asked them about metrics did they use to inform their cost benefit equations. Non Financial measures were #1 & 3. See chart.

There was discussion as to whether retailers should explore additional metrics, for example, if store associates did feel safer, did it lead to fewer leaving the business, and if so, what were the cost savings from not having to rehire and train new store associates as often?

We will catch up with this dilemma again in 2025.


See below the interview with Professor Adrian Beck who shared his key takeaways from the meeting.

Jun 15, 2024