MORE TOOLS FIGHT DVD THEFT

Supermarkets and other retailers are bringing an arsenal of strategies and secure-display technologies to bear against those who pilfer videos.These range from innovative racks and locked cases to electronic tags, video cameras, high-visibility display locations and generally heightened awareness. Many are also looking at high-tech video-dispensing kiosks.The situation grocers face is this: Higher-priced

Supermarkets and other retailers are bringing an arsenal of strategies and secure-display technologies to bear against those who pilfer videos.

These range from innovative racks and locked cases to electronic tags, video cameras, high-visibility display locations and generally heightened awareness. Many are also looking at high-tech video-dispensing kiosks.

The situation grocers face is this: Higher-priced product is a more inviting target, as are DVDs because of their size. Simply throwing up barriers between customers and product works, but can prove a wet blanket on otherwise hot impulse sales. With video an increasingly important product category, the dollars at stake are significant.

'A BIG ISSUE'

Shrink is "a large concern across the whole class of trade," confirmed Bill Bryant, vice president sales, Ingram Entertainment, La Vergne, Tenn. "We have worked with the studios to provide long boxes for the new releases -- polyurethane snap-on cases that make the item larger and harder to pilfer."

"Oh, it's huge," said Bob Gettner, video buyer/coordinator, B&R Stores, Lincoln, Neb., of the shrink problem. "It's definitely a big issue." Shrink among DVDs has decreased at B&R Stores because store personnel are "watching it a lot closer," Gettner said. "It was to a point where it was almost out of control."

His stores use long boxes provided by suppliers to hold DVDs, as well as electronic tags that sound off if not deactivated before going through a security gate. Other measures include merchandising DVDs in clearly visible locations and doing physical inventories on a weekly basis.

"Shrink is always a problem, not just for video, but for everything," noted Greg Rediske, president, Video Management Co., Tacoma, Wash. "Sometimes video gets a bum rap because it's a high-profile item that is tracked more often than not. Other items are stolen from grocery stores, too, but video is the one kicked out for theft."

In fact, Rediske said, when grocery executives spot a theft of a particular item, in this case a video, it should sound a wake-up call. "They should look upon it as the means to eliminate or at least minimize the theft situation in the [whole] store. It is an item to put security on to find out what is happening."

Rediske said he has found that shoplifters generally don't target budget DVDs and VHS tapes, preferring more expensive fare. "This is why we have put out quite a few pay-by-scan racks. We front the merchandise, and are paid weekly based on the transactions at the checkstand. This can only work with budget, however, as the incredibly small margins of hit product make it a no-go."

Chuck Lindner, owner of Doug's Supermarkets, Warroad, Minn., said he has found shrink among DVDs to be less than that of VHS tapes, primarily due, as Rediske has found, to the difference in price. "The cost of a DVD is low enough so that it's not as enticing a factor."

Unfortunately, not all of the theft comes from shoppers. "I would imagine that loss of units is far more likely attributable to employee handling than consumer behavior," said Bob Alexander, president of Alexander & Associates, a consumer product research and consulting firm in New York. "There are standard security measures that all retailers take, [and] they are onerous enough. Any more than that and the retailers will negatively impact sales far worse than the customer problems they imagine they are dealing with."

With so much at stake, it is not surprising that manufacturers and retailers have scrambled to develop innovative ways to prevent shrink.

"I think the protection is getting more sophisticated," said Guy Finley, director of operations, International Recording Media Association, Princeton, N.J. But sophistication is only part of the plan. The rest is commitment by retailers and their employees to focus on shrink.

REDUCING SHRINK

Several approaches are helping to cut down on DVD shrink.

For example, Ingram is working with anti-sweep security rack manufacturers to come up with innovative fixtures to help deter theft in the supermarkets. Some are gravity-fed devices that permit just one video at a time to be removed from the bottom, Bryant said. Other, push-type or spring-loaded mechanisms allow dispensing only a single DVD at a time.

Electronic article surveillance tags, coupled with security gates, work for many retailers. "The standard security device for DVDs is electronic article surveillance tags," said Chris McGoey, who runs the Crime Doctor Web site, www.crimedoctor.com.

Advice for getting the most out of EAS systems includes hiding the tags well. If that can't be done, use two, one of which is in plain sight (many thieves don't look for a second). Some operators without the budget for such systems place tags on merchandise anyway, since their mere presence will dissuade some.

Doug's has implemented an aggressive shrink policy, hiding security labels on VHS tapes. "We were able to catch a lot of people," Lindner said.

The same security stickers are also placed on DVDs, but as Lindner said, "that's obviously a little harder because you can't take the DVD apart and hide some sticker in it. But that just hasn't been a real issue in shrink." Doug's provides its own security case for each DVD.

Some must take more extreme measures. Bashas' in Chandler, Ariz., solves the shrink problem by keeping its rental videos behind the service counter and its sell-through product locked up in flip-frame display cases on the sales floor. Each of the cases holds 170 DVDs and are found in most Bashas' stores.

"We've reduced shrinkage down to practically nothing," said video specialist Ray Wolsieffer. "It's such a high-theft item, it just was illogical to put it on the floor where it could be accessed; of course they're going to walk out with it.

"We're comfortable with what we're doing."

Rediske said he has found locked racks to be "ineffective -- not because they don't stop theft, because they will stop some of it, but not employee theft." They can also "seriously impact sales," he added, "making it pointless."

One of the exhibitors at IRMA's recent Entertainment Media Expo in Los Angeles unveiled a protection system that Finley calls "even easier and more convenient for the retailers or rental houses." The device, which uses six magnets, allows employees to remove security fasteners more easily than before.

Video vending is making a comeback, and this can play a role in combating shrink. Finley said he foresees supermarkets improving security and saving labor by going to kiosk-based DVD rental systems.

Rachel Nichols, director of video operations, K-VA-T Food Stores, Abingdon, Va., admitted that her company is "having a problem" with DVD shrink. "Basically, what it is in our area is a matter of people coming into our departments and just slipping the disc out of the case. I'm not sure how they're managing to do that, but they are."