Displacement and Customer Manipulation


OK, this may appear a little rambling, but I promise to get to the point (and it is recruitment and job board related).  My home town of Airdrie was the first in Scotland to install CCTV cameras in 1992, monitoring the general public.  12 cameras were installed, and a study was commissioned soon after, to measure their effects on crime and public behaviour in the area covered.  Most people’s belief was that crime would simply be displaced to outlying areas, where no monitoring was taking place.  “If someone’s determined to shoplift or pick-pocket, they’ll just do it somewhere else”, was the prevailing view.  That of course fails to recognise that not all crimes are made by determined individuals, and the fact that much crime was opportunist, by definition.  The displacement theory did of course mean that some individuals had to go further afield to commit crime, but it required an effort on their part, and the self recognition that they had gone out that day with the intent to commit crime.  In fact, opportunist shoplifters, thieves, muggers etc are by nature lazy, and often fail to rise to the challenge of displacement.  The conclusion of the study showed not only a reduction in measured crime over a 2 year period, but also that outlying areas weren’t affected adversely.

In 2007, whilst presenting a NORA to the West Midlands Police, I was given a tour of their CCTV centre, which monitored all main roads in Birmingham with their Registration Plate recognition system.  This would flag automatically when it detected a vehicle on the road which hadn’t been taxed, the plate didn’t match the car, or anything else suspicious.  Publicity meant that it was nigh on impossible to drive a stolen car through Birmingham without being caught.  The criminals had to rethink their methods.

Behaviour manipulation by displacement also occurs in many other environments. Supermarkets, and most other shops, deliberately design their shops to be shoplifter friendly.  They could choose to have all stock behind a counter (like Argos), and away from thieving hands, but have recognised that open-plan stores, where customers and thieves alike are able to touch, lift, and inspect products, generate far, far greater sales.  So much so, that it outweighs the losses incurred by shoplifting.  Of course they try to mitigate this by creating an environment where you need to be pretty determined to do so, but nevertheless, theft isn’t such a problem that they’ll all become like Argos.

“Home taping is killing music” was the battle-cry of the Musician’s Union in the 70’s, when I was taping the entire Chart Show (pausing the cassette briefly while the DJ was talking).  It was a rubbish argument then, and is rubbish now.  Again it has been shown that those “stealing” music, movies or software by taping, downloading, or buying dodgy copies at the local market actually spend more per annum on those products that those who don’t.  This activity has always been tolerated, but moderated, by industry that logically sees these people as unpaid champions of their products, beta testers, and buyers of concert tickets, merchandise, and the genuine article further down the line.  It is entirely possible for Bill Gates (or any other software provider) to lock up their products securely.  However, that would be a real pain for genuine customers, would result in lower sales, and less marketing impact.  Tolerating a certain managed amount, is a key plank of a marketing strategy.  Every time a song is given away for free on the radio, or a film on TV, or a trailer on Youtube, it is an advertisement for the genuine product.  Official beta testers are part of the mix too.  The security measures they do take, are designed to raise the bar for potential thieves, displacing them, requiring more effort, and therefore stopping opportunists. Managed carefully, opportunists in this sense, would often see it as far easier to pay 79 pence to buy a song, than to go to the bother of downloading free from a dodgy website.  One measure which movie and music companies do employ, is to seed websites like Pirate Bay with unplayable files, labelled as the real thing, and that further serves to put off the opportunists.

Now this all sounds like I’m on the side of the thieves; I’m not.  I’m saying that there is a larger game being played, and all players are trying to stay on the field.

Job boards (see I did get round to it), have found themselves similarly challenged.  There are many different charging models used these days, and many types of abuse that they have to contend with (sharing logins between agencies, downloading databases etc).  Of them all, Free Trial Pirates can be the worst annoyance for job boards, where potential advertisers simply milk the available system to gain access to many sites, and never ever sign up as a paying client.  Major job boards will say they haven’t had to rely quite so heavily on this, but it will never completely go away when the market is so competitive.  A Free Trial is like a taster version of a piece of software, either limited by functionality or by time. Showing a client just how effective your board is, should be the best way to secure their business, but the availability of a trial with a rival board means they can do the rounds endlessly, for no cost.  Like Argos, a job board could cease trials altogether, and lose the potential customers who will only buy after touching and inspecting the produce.

Managing those, who want a free ride into the ranks of paying loyal clients, must be a priority for all job boards looking to successfully emerge from this recession.  Displacing the determined abusers of the system that has evolved, is important.  Embracing those opportunists, by offering short term contracts at similar rates per vacancy, is essential.

Stephen O'Donnell is a lifelong recruiter, internet enthusiast, fadgadget and peripatetic writer.

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