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Shoplifting Prevention

By John W. Kolberg


SHOP’LIFT"ER (noun) - A person who steal goods from a store during shopping hours.

Business people don’t really need the term "shoplifter" defined. Typically, the business person knows all too well about shoplifters or at least the end result - lost profits. What most business people would like defined is a foolproof plan on how they can reduce their shoplifting losses. Although it is nearly impossible to provide a foolproof plan to prevent all shoplifting, there are some practical ways to reduce your losses.

Shoplifters assume they won’t get caught. So a good strategy is to prove them wrong. The following tips which require forethought and ingenuity, but costs little, should be considered by all business owners.

Why Be Concerned?

bulletNo one has an accurate record, but various studies show that shoplifting cost U.S. citizens from $24 to $40 billion a year. This includes merchandise stolen and security measures.
bulletOne to two percent of all shoppers enter a store to steal.
bulletFemale shoplifters outnumber males by 20 to 1.
bulletMost shoplifters are under age 21, with the peak age of 15. Nine out of ten shoplifters are under age 30.
bullet49% of all shoplifters attended college.
bulletOf all shoplifters, 45% are middle income, 28% are high-income, and 27% are low-income.
bulletFor every dollar taken in bank robberies, $300 is lost to shoplifting.

Types of Shoplifters

Shoplifters fall into 5 basic types or categories. These include:


  1. Professionals: This group represents a rather small percentage of shoplifters, but they proportionally can account for significant losses. Due to the fact that they operate in a very smooth manner, they are the most difficult to detect. Professionals usually steal to return for cash, or sell to a "fence".
  2. Amateurs: This group represents the majority of shoplifters. Typically, they are more opportunistic in nature, not as skilled as professionals, and are generally nervous and self-conscious.
  3. Drug Users/Addicts: This group steals to fund their drug habit. They will either resell their booty to a fence, or attempt a cash refund. Their methods are crude and usually not well planned. Remember, an addict can become frantic, or even violent, when apprehended.
  4. Kleptomaniac: Very few shoplifters fall into this category. This type of individual has a psychological compulsion to steal. They will commit a theft whenever the urge hits. Normally they are nervous and shy.
  5. Vagrant: These individuals generally take food items, alcoholic beverages, or clothing needed for personal use. A vagrant often steals to exist and may be under the influence of alcohol.


Methods Used By Shoplifters

Palming: This method consists of simply concealing the item in the palm of the hand and later hiding the item.

Booster Devices: This can include a variety of devices. A booster coat will have large pockets sewn inside, as will booster pants or skirts. They are generally large and baggy to conceal the hidden merchandise. Booster boxes may appear as a gift wrapped box but with a hinged, false door on the bottom.

Wearing Items Out: A customer will try on clothing in your dressing room, taking several items with him/her. Once in the dressing room they will layer the stolen clothing under their regular clothing, or roll the items up and secret them between their legs, a method known as "Crotching".

Shields: Involving multiple participants, one or more will shield or block the view of the thief from view. The thief will then pocket or crotch the items. A variation of this method is to use a distraction to divert store employees from the thief.

Buggy/Strollers: Watch people pushing buggies or strollers through the store. Many times they will conceal items inside the stroller. When confronted, if the child is old enough, they will say that the child must have put the item in the stroller. You may not have enough to arrest the person, but at least you’ll get your merchandise back.

Magazines & Books: Used to conceal small flat items.


Management Concerns 

1. Management should set store policy on shoplifting and prosecutions. Remember, if you don’t prosecute, chances are the offenders will return. They will also tell their friends that your store is an easy mark.

2. Install signs at the entrance and other prominent locations to the effect that "Shoplifting is a Crime! Violators will be Arrested and Prosecuted".

3. Eliminate blind spots in your store by rearranging racks, counters, cash registers, etc., or use mirrors or closed circuit TV cameras. (TV cameras can also reduce claims of injury due to falls in your store). Forget the fake cameras. They are easy to spot. Use the real thing and link it to a time-lapse type VCR.

4. Display small items in case that can be locked.

5. Don’t display expensive clothing or merchandise in the front of the store or near entrances or exits unless they are secured.

6. Increase personnel during rush hours or busy holiday seasons.

7. Establish a Fitting Room policy

A. Check items to be taken in to fitting rooms for other merchandise concealed in the pockets.

B. Restrict the number of items that can be taken into the fitting room.

8. Establish a Merchandise Return policy

A. Do not allow cash returns without store receipt.

B. Thieves will often paste together receipts or photocopy it. Make sure you get a full original store receipt.

C. Limit the dollar amount of any return without direct manager approval.


Tips For Employees 

bulletAcknowledge customers as they enter your store or department. Fast efficient services will deter most shoplifters. Shoplifters want minimum contact with sales help. thus a friendly, helpful, observant salesclerk is a good deterrence to theft.
bulletKnow your sales area. A knowledgeable salesclerk is in a much better position to spot items that have been moved or are missing.
bulletWatch the nervous customer who does not want assistance.
bulletBe careful of persons walking with merchandise in hand. Ask them, "May I help you? Would you like me to put that by the register until you are ready?"
bulletWatch the customer’s hands.
bulletKeep an eye peeled for unauthorized people in the stock room or shipping and receiving area. They may be looking for items to steal, or they may be purposely there to distract you while their partner hits the sales floor.
bulletWatch customers with open packages, shopping bags, oversized handbags and purses.
bulletNever put out more than one expensive item on a counter top for a customer to look at.

What To Do If Something Is Taken

Have a store code in place to use over the PA is a shoplifter is suspected. This will alert other employees to the threat.

Maintain observation of the suspect. You must be sure that they still have the item when they are stopped.

To prove retail theft you must establish that the suspect removed the item past the last place they could legitimately pay for it. This is usually past the check out counters at the entrance. Once outside, all doubt is removed as to their criminal intent.

You should know what was taken, how it was taken, and where it was concealed.

Notify a co-worker or security to aid you.

Identify yourself, explain the circumstances and request the person return to he store. Example: "Excuse me, I’m a store employee. I believe we have a problem, would you please remove the black purse from under your coat and return to the store with me."

If a suspect is reluctant to return, advise them an arrest may be necessary if they will not voluntarily return.

It is better to let a shoplifter leave than become involved in a physical confrontation where injury might occur to the employee or suspect.

Make sure to get a good description of the suspect and/or vehicle should the suspect flee.

If an arrest is made, contact the police as soon as possible.

Document your observations and actions in writing. Do this as soon as possible after the incident. This report will be your portable memory when the case goes to court.

Shoplifting is a serious crime. A prolific thief can wipe out a small business. A group can take down a big business. Business owners and managers need to be proactive in their treatment of shoplifters and the problem of retail theft. By avoiding the issue, we all pay.


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