Shoplifting Prevention 101

Identify and Prevent Retail Theft

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The crime of shoplifting is the taking of merchandise offered for sale without paying. According to the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention, more than $25 million worth of merchandise is stolen from retailers each and every day. Shoplifting has become a large part of retail shrinkage.

No matter how big or small the retail store may be, all types of retailers are susceptible to the growing problem of shoplifting.

This article will help retailers identify shoplifters and shoplifting methods, create a less attractive environment for shoplifters and teach retailers how to implement shoplifting policies and procedures to protect their store against theft.


Know What to Look For

In order to stop a shoplifter, retailers must first be familiar with the categories of shoplifters, common shoplifting methods, and know what to look for in customers who exhibit strange behavior. Here is a more in-depth article on how to spot a shoplifter. But the main things to consider are visual cues. 

Most shoplifters use items to conceal their theft. There are those rare occasions when a thief will just grab and run, but that is not very common. Most have a plan for how they will remove the merchandise from your store. For example, a long coat in the middle of summer provides a great place to conceal merchandise. Female shoplifters often carry more than one handbag or purse.

A purse is not something that catches your eye so it makes sense. However, more than one is unusual. 

Other places thiefs tend to hide merchandise include, strollers, clothing, umbrellas, even inside bags with items they paid for. I once caught a shoplifter in my store who bought a pair of shoes and then went back into the hosiery department and was stuffing socks and belts into the bag.

Had I not been paying attention, no one would have stopped them. Think about it; the other employees simply would have seen a woman with one of our shopping bags leaving the store. That's not unusual. 

Here are some other signs someone might be a shoplifter:

  • Paying more attention to the employees then the merchandise.
  • Picking up random items and "pretending" to look at them.
  • Walking the opposite direction of employees. Each time you move - they move. 
  • If you are an apparel store, watch the number of items they take into the dressing room and check that count when they exit. 


Use Preventive Measures

One of the most effective tools to prevent shoplifting is good store management. Retailers should also use store layout, adequate inventory controls and follow common security practices to combat shoplifting. Many times when I visit a retail store, I find so many "hidden" places in the store. In other words, an employee cannot see what a customer is doing. Not only is it a bad idea to block all views for shoplifting, it also impacts your ability to service. 

And speaking of service, the best way to prevent theft is through proactive service. If an employee is actively engaged with a customer, then it is very hard for the thief to steal.

He or she knows she is being watched. Use customer service to prevent shoplifting, it's your best weapon. 

Keeping your store merchandised well is a big help in the fight against shoplifting. If you have disorganized shelves, how would you know someone stole from you? Empty space on a shelf or display table should be a big signal something is wrong. But only if you are focused on merchandising. 


Stopping Shoplifters

It is important to plan store policies and procedures for shoplifting early in the business planning process. You hope it will never happen in your store, but the truth is - it will. And when it does, retailers and their staff should be prepared to handle the situation. Take the following into consideration when writing your shoplifting policies.

  • How do you approach a customer you suspect?
  • How do you confront the suspect? or Is your policy to not confront?
  • Who do you call or contact?
  • What documentation do you need?

Make sure that you take time to role-play with your employees the proper procedures. This is not something they should "shoot from the hip." Train them well. 

Retailers are constantly struck by outside influences out of their control. And the truth is, shoplifters are not professionals. Only 3% of shoplifters are true "professional thieves.". But you can control your methods of loss prevention. Preventing shoplifting, stopping employee theft and reducing shrinkage can help ensure the retail store is keeping the most revenue possible.