Thursday, March 26, 2015

An Open Letter To Toys R Us About Loss Prevention

Originally Posted to LinkedIn

To the non-collector and random viewer with no time to waste, the above collection of figures in the new Toys R Us 3 figure pack seems like a safe bet, though an odd grouping if you know even the tiniest bit about the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While The X-Men's Cyclops, The Punisher and The Avenger's Black Widow are all "movie stars" in their own right (and therefore characters that make retailers happy), putting them together in a set is an odd move for a manufacturing giant like Hasbro. Hasbro would agree, as this isn't the lineup for this set at all. 
The Problem At Hand

As companies move away from the old traditional blister carded figure or even the modern, nearly impenetrable clamshell, the topic of loss prevention must come up as often as cutting costs...or at least it should. The introduction of the hanging boxed figure presented collectors with a more pleasing format, but also presents the opportunity for creative swapping. A slow, steady hand will guarantee tape along the box tabs comes away cleanly, and with no other impediments, an individual is free to remove the figure and accessories and replace them with anything they feel will complete the illusion this figure was not tampered with, allowing them to return the toy for a full refund. You might laugh at this notion, stating the individual in question has just lost a figure of their own in this swap, but with the availability of toys at flea markets and even older figures worth little among the piles in someone's collection, it is a good trade in their minds. I've seen everything from G.I.Joe figures in Marvel packaging to random armless/legless characters placed alongside a bundle of odd junk parts and to the opposite extreme (as seen above), three figures that are still sought after placed in the packaging because the individual simply did not care..or might have not known any better!

Why You Should Care

Aside from the simple math a store needs to do when tallying up the number of action figures missing from inventory, outright cut from their packaging (as is another practice these days) and rendered unsalable by unscrupulous swappers, there is a deeper impact on those collectors constantly on the hunt. Several stores may be on a collector's optimum route when out looking for newly released action figures. Along with the obvious visit to Toys R Us... KMart, Walmart, Target and Walgreens rank highly among favorite stops across the U.S. Among these stores, TRU ranks the highest in swapped figures found (and photographed with images shared on social media), with Walmart coming in second and Target, a close third. The impact of this can be seen across the board.

  • Buyer confidence in the store location is lowered as they discuss online how the stores employees are easily fooled by something obvious to anyone who might look for more than a minute.

  • Discouraged enough by continually not being able to find already difficult figures to track down, the sight of swapped figures adds to the consumer  frustration, driving them away from brick and mortar stores and into the hands of online retailers.

  • Google has a long memory. When a collector is frustrated, they tend to visit their favorite forums and vent. Along with this venting come countless images of swapped figures hanging in retail stores that make their way onto Google and are now tied directly to your store name, and often, to a specific location. Not only is this bad press, but it gives ideas to other unscrupulous (but perhaps not so creative) individuals who have now been taught how they can get a $22 dollar figure for $3 to $5 dollars and a bit of gas. 

What You Can Do

Combating theft is always challenging, for a local mom and pop store as well as a retail giant. While little can be done about the packaging choices made by a manufacturer, educating your employees and simple store policy can go a long way toward ending this behavior.

  • Don't accept returns without a receipt. I understand most retailers are now on board with this practice, but many will still accept a new, seemingly untampered with item and allow an exchange. A receipt should be present even when an exchange is asked for to assure you aren't accepting inventory from an online purchase or worse, a store location taking on the leftovers from a secondary market sales person's unmovable stock that will now languish on your pegs until clearanced away. Perhaps the answer here is to insist on a receipt for all toy exchanges, as a person with homegoods and such is less likely to be attempting to defraud an outlet.

  • Train employees to give a quick inspection. 99% of toys at retail show an image of the toy in the package somewhere on the packaging. Even someone unfamiliar with pop culture characters can match an image with the figure in the box.

  • Curtail bad behavior with warnings. The Toys R Us system was set up a very long time ago to be able to reject a form of ID when going through the return/exchange process. Upon receipt of a tampered with toy, the employee can ask for the individual's ID (which is usually standard practice in any event) and flag their name/number in the system. When the customer is handed back their item, the employee can explain that the item in the package does not match the item on the package and while this may be a mistake the customer was unaware of, a notation has been put on their account. This will not impact any future transactions, but if three notations are made on the person's account, they will be unable to return any items, even with a receipt, for a full year. A piece of paper can be handed to the customer outlining how to spot a tampered with toy and the store's practices in dealing with loss prevention so they have it on their person when denied the return. The customer leaves with their tampered with toy and a bit of humiliation.

This all comes down to math I suppose. Is the cost of loss and eroding public confidence enough that very small, simple steps should be put into place? The risk of flagging a customer due to spotting a tampered with toy is, of course, never seeing that individual at that location again, so there is that to factor in. From a collector perspective, the move would be a triumph, showing honest, hard working fans the company cares about the quality of merchandise they sell. As word gets out about the new practices, you are sure to see far less individuals even attempting this fraud in the future.

1 comment :

  1. Thank you for a good article. It's disappointing to see so many toys vandalized or damaged by the bad apples. But I encourage everyone who is a collector to take it upon themselves to personally bring these incidents to the store's attention. Find a manager if you can. I don't think just taking a pic and chatting about it online is enough. Behavior like this by these "bad apples" makes all of us collectors look bad, in my opinion. It's up to us to keep from having to pay the price along with them for their bad behavior. The bad press, ultimately, is on us collectors if this keeps up. The least we can do is make them aware. And given the steps some retailers take when accepting returns, it may be possible for them to track the "bad apple" down and confront them about it.