Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Making a mountain out of a molehill

The “Global Retail Theft Barometer 2009” report has led a flurry of news reports and yet another opportunity for India bashing. Headlines like “Nation of shoplifters?”, “Indians are world’s best at shoplifting” make for attention grabbing news while the more balanced publications still did succumb to headlines like “India No. 1 in Retail theft”, “India tops list of shoplifting nations”, etc.

This is a classic example of misunderstanding or maybe even misrepresenting facts to create a distorted perspective. In that context, let us do a reality check by examining certain facts without colouring them in any way.

First is the study itself. This is based on a confidential survey of only 1069 Retailers, although 4,200 large retailers were supposedly contacted. Which means that 75% of those contacted did not reply or participate in the study. I wonder why?

I have tried to see what kind of a questionnaire was used and am unable to access a copy online. So, will limit my view to the simple fact that one cannot, I repeat, one cannot effectively measure theft. At best it is an opinion expressed. What a Retailer can measure in the difference between physical and system stock. How can this be segmented with precise percentages between theft and other reasons.

There are various components of shrinkage. Wrong receipts, Wrong billing, Inaccurate stock audits, Unaccounted breakage/ damages and of course willful theft in transit or by store staff or customers. Any retailer can first of all only measure the overall shrinkage and even that is a guesstimate in the case of many operators. To expect them to be able to measure the component of shoplifting is incredibly hilarious. I just loved the decimals in the figure of 45.2% of shoplifting and 23.3% employee theft! It does create an aura of absolute accuracy.

So, it means that the entire range of system and process related issues are responsible for only 31.5% (Note the decimal point!) of the shrinkage. Having been in the industry for so long this is incredibly unbelievable. Most Retailers would state that their fill rates hover between 70% to 85%. In a context where system inefficiencies cannot ensure optimum stocking, to state that the contribution of system/ process errors is far lower than theft is at best wishful thinking.

Only the shrinkage figure of 3.2% has some validity because it is objective and is based on reality. In fact even that is suspect in the case of certain operators who do not have a robust stock audit system in place.

Let’s retain some objectivity when reviewing such reports and not get carried away by fancy headlines and provocative reporting.


Ruby Ray said...

Could not agree more !!

Jacob J said...

Good Point...Shrinkage is most often misinterpreted as theft.It is sad that we are shown in such poor light because of wrong interpretation!!!

shaan said...

Interesting. Thanks for the insight.

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