Virtual reality is one of the fastest-growing phenomenons: in 2018 alone it reached $4.8 billion dollars in revenue from both software and hardware. Although traditionally an entertainment technology for use in cinema and video gaming, applications of virtual reality are reaching further than ever before. VR has been used in the medical field to demonstrate procedures to students. In physical rehabilitation, patients visualize their changing bodies and progress. Psychiatrists use the technology to help understand and treat phobic and traumatic disorders, addictions, and neurological disorders such as autism spectrum disorder. Virtual reality has obvious implications in retail such as virtual customer experimentation with novel products, but what is the future of VR in loss prevention?

Employees are the first and most effective line of defense in loss prevention, and the most salient use of virtual reality in retail is in employee training. Walmart gained fame in the market after developing a program integrating virtual reality into its management training centers, called Walmart Academy. They have reported improvements in employee post-training testing of up to 15%, showing a marked increase in information retention over traditional online training modules. These improvements were especially noticeable when educating employees on new procedures, such as using the new Walmart online pickup towers. Now, Walmart is in the process of shipping 17,000 Oculus Go headsets to stores around the country to reach its goal of training over one million associates using virtual reality. This ambitious goal is being met with welcome and excitement by Walmart associates, many of which are looking forward to receiving cutting-edge training. As is one of the great benefits of this technology, Walmart uses virtual reality to create scenarios for employees that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to replicate in-store. One example of this is Walmart’s Black Friday management training, demonstrated in a report by CBS. To replicate the experience of managing a store during the rush of a Black Friday sales event, Walmart used 360° video recordings of a real store on Black Friday to challenge managers to look for real customer safety hazards among the chaos. A Walmart associate described this as an ideal training solution because it allows for total immersion in a real-life scenario, but with the ability to make mistakes and learn without risk.

Verizon, too, is developing new associate training modules using virtual reality. Like Walmart, they are using the technology to train associates for situations they are unable to replicate in real life. Specifically, Verizon is focused on targeting violent loss prevention. Although violent loss prevention incidents occur in fewer than fifty of their stores a year, thousands of managers have been trained in their armed robbery loss prevention course. Verizon Chief Security Officer Michael Mason told CBS that even though armed robberies are far from common, preparing associates to deal with a dangerous situation is a reality of life and that is worth facing if it can help them identify threats and protect themselves more effectively. “Clicking through a computer module is nothing like turning around to a gun in your face,” said Mike Currier, associate director, at the Loss Prevention Research Council’s (LPRC) summer Innovate event. Turning around to a gun in the face is actually a part of the Verizon virtual reality training. Although some Verizon managers described the training as visceral and traumatizing, they said the training helped them practice staying calm in an emergency in order to protect themselves and customers. These are just two examples of virtual reality training in the retail industry. Chipotle is even using virtual reality technology to train new associates, and Jet Blue is using it to familiarize airplane technicians with their jets.

The other big use for VR in loss prevention is in research. Like associate training, the greatest benefit of using virtual reality in loss prevention research is the ability to create scenarios that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to replicate in-store. We see this done in the treatment phobias, where a patient is exposed to a mild version of their fear with virtual reality because they are unable to confront the real fear. With virtual reality research in autism spectrum disorder, virtual reality can be used to see how research subjects interact with virtual elements of a retail environment, without ever entering a store. This allows loss prevention research to be conducted in a way that is less disruptive to business operations, while simultaneously enriching the quality of data that can be collected. New developments in virtual reality such as eye-tracking and haptic feedback (the ability to perceive touch in VR) allow for unprecedented methods of data collection. For example, eye tracking in virtual reality can allow a researcher to follow the exact gaze of a research subject. In loss prevention, this means knowing exactly where a potential offender or customer looks upon entering a store, instead of relying on participant feedback which can be skewed by questioning. The convenience and richness of data available by virtual reality make it superior for research in loss prevention.

Another mode of virtual immersion is mixed reality systems, such as the Simulation Lab located in the LPRC’s NextRetail Research Center in Gainesville, Florida, made possible by Sensormatic and Nedap. Mixed reality is created using a combination of physical and digital objects in the immersion experience, to better target participant attention and response. For example, focus groups can be virtually immersed in a store using our simulation lab, but can interact physically with real elements in a store such as a self-checkout terminal. Another advantage of this over a traditional virtual reality system is the ability to target focus groups, rather than individuals. In addition, a mixed reality room can be combined with biofeedback systems to allow for an even richer level of data collection that can be done with virtual reality systems. We believe that allowing participants to interact with the environment as well as each other will lead to the best replication of real-world conditions, because loss prevention is never an isolated event or individual interaction; it happens in the context of others. Regardless, virtual reality has both research and employee training possibilities, and will definitely play a part in the future of loss prevention and retail.

Retailers are often at the crossroads of staying on top of technology advancements for customer convenience and keeping inventory shrinkage to a minimum. Currently, many retailers are adopting self-checkout kiosks as they are well-liked by customers. However, thieves also prefer these kiosks.


The LPRC conducted an interview study of offenders (the process of which you can learn more about in this LPRC CrimeScience podcast) who admitted to shoplifting from a retail chain at least once in the previous 3 months using the self-checkout kiosks. The study was done to understand the effectiveness of stand-alone and integrated Public View Monitors (PVMs), the goal of which is to notify offenders that they are being monitored and recorded, and deterring shoplifting while using self-checkout technologies.


The study asks:

  • Why do offenders choose to use self-checkout to conduct theft?
  • Do offenders See, Get, and Fear the PVM?
  • Do offenders perceive the risks of stealing from the areas equipped with this technology greater than those that are unequipped?
  • What other deterrent factors may prevent offenders from shoplifting?
  • What role do employees play in mitigating the risk of self-checkout theft?
  • Are technologies or employees more effective in deterring self-checkout theft?


The conclusions drawn were not unimaginable: while PVMs do deter some people, having less attention from employees, among other things, makes shoplifters feel like it is easier to get away with committing crime.


The full results and conclusions are available for LPRC members in the Knowledge Center. If you’re a member, click here to view the report. If you would like to learn more and become a member, click here.

With the holiday season around the corner, retailers are preparing for the influx of traffic at their stores. Shoppers want to snag deals on the newest TVs, cutting-edge phones, and latest laptops. However, the perfect gifts for your friends and family are also prime targets for thieves.

Thieves take advantage of busy storefronts, large crowds, and retailers’ overstretched resources to commit crimes, hoping to go unnoticed. It is no surprise that there is a sharp uptick in shoplifting during the holiday season, resulting in billions of dollars of loss. Thieves focus their attention on popular, easily concealable items, that are difficult to trace, easy to transport and resell. While some shoplifters keep stolen goods for personal use, professional thieves resell these goods to individuals, small businesses, and even other retailers! In recent years, professional thieves have transitioned to selling a large portion of their stolen goods on popular websites such as eBay, Craigslist, and SwipSwap.

While some items, such as electronics, may seem like obvious targets of theft, others may surprise you. Here is a list of the most commonly targeted items by retail thieves based on research by the Loss Prevention Research Council.

High-end Smart Phones and Other Electronics

With the introduction of the iPhone X and the Google Pixel, many consumers will be upgrading their cell phones over the coming year. Where there is high demand, there is the possibility of theft. Apple iPhones and Samsung Galaxy phones have been some of the highest theft items for retailers. While they are often kept behind lock and key, the fact that they range in price from $400 upwards to over $1000 per phone make them enticing targets for retail thieves. Cell phone and electronics accessories are also targeted by thieves. In recent years, Beats and Bose headphones have made the list of most stolen electronics for most retailers.

Designer Clothing and Accessories

In-demand fashions are also highly targeted by thieves. These include designer handbags, belts, and clothing. High-end brands such as Ferragamo, Michael Kors, Fendi, and Tori Burch regularly make the list of most-stolen items. These are highly desirable because thieves can often make off with tens, even hundreds of articles, in a single visit. Designer articles can range from $50 to upwards of $2000 per article. Thieves can often sell these to third party resellers or individuals for up to half of the full retail price. Many thieves will brazenly load up a cart with high-end fashion items and simply walk out of a store. Others use foil-lined “magic bags” to defeat electronic sensors. This has become such a large problem that many states are adopting laws that make the possession of such bags punishable offenses.

Athletic and Casual Footwear

Athletic footwear has always been in high demand among thieves. While theft rates ebb and flow with fads, particular brands remain highly desirable, including Nike, Air Jordan, and Under Armor. Certain fashions may be popular with thieves because they are worn by a popular sports figure or pop stars, and quickly sold as a result. Because fashion changes quickly, loss prevention professionals need to be able to quickly identify which products will be the targets of theft.

High-end Cosmetics

Makeup, anti-aging creams, and other luxury cosmetics are highly sought-after commodities. These items are small, valuable, easy to conceal, and easy to resell on the market. Olay creams, Estée Lauder products, and certain designer colognes are all highly targeted by thieves, who sometimes sell these items online or at flea markets.

Alcohol and Tobacco

Alcoholic products are preferred targets for thieves because they can be easily concealed, and easily sold. “Vice products” such as alcohol and tobacco present special issues for retailers, especially drug stores and convenience stores. These products can sometimes result in violent crime, such as robberies. These items are heavily targeted because thieves understand there is high demand for these items because they are expensive and enjoyable to the people that regularly partake in them. Theft of alcohol can hurt retailers in unforeseen ways. Because alcohol is targeted by thieves, retailers choose to keep alcohol behind a counter or locked display, hurting sales from legitimate customers.

Common Household Goods

While expensive electronics or designer clothes may be an obvious choice for thieves, due to their high value, thieves often target common household goods such as certain brands of laundry detergent, or baby formula. Because these products are necessities, and can be very expensive, there is a built in illicit market for these products. In a few cases, law enforcement professionals have found that products such as Tide laundry detergent act as a sort of illicit currency for drug deals, given its limited traceability, high value, and a built-in demand. After all, everyone has to do laundry!



Loss Prevention Research Council. 2016. Retailer Top-High Theft Reported Items Across Categories-ORC Specific.

Payntner, Ben. “Suds for Drugs” New York Magazine. 1/6/2013