By John W. Kolberg
SHOPLIFT"ER (noun) - A person who
steal goods from a store during shopping hours.
Business people dont 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 wont 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
Why Be Concerned?
|No 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.|
|One to two percent of all shoppers enter
a store to steal.|
|Female shoplifters outnumber males by 20
|Most shoplifters are under age 21, with
the peak age of 15. Nine out of ten shoplifters are under age 30.|
|49% of all shoplifters attended college.|
|Of all shoplifters, 45% are middle
income, 28% are high-income, and 27% are low-income.|
|For every dollar taken in bank robberies,
$300 is lost to shoplifting.|
Types of Shoplifters
Shoplifters fall into 5 basic types or
categories. These include:
- 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
- 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
- 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,
- 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.
- 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
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.
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 youll get your merchandise back.
Magazines & Books: Used
to conceal small flat items.
1. Management should set store policy on
shoplifting and prosecutions. Remember, if you dont 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
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
5. Dont display expensive clothing or
merchandise in the front of the store or near entrances or exits unless they
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
B. Thieves will often paste together
receipts or photocopy it. Make sure you get a full original store
C. Limit the dollar amount of any return
without direct manager approval.
Tips For Employees
|Acknowledge 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.|
|Know your sales area. A knowledgeable
salesclerk is in a much better position to spot items that have been moved
or are missing.|
|Watch the nervous customer who does not
|Be 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?"|
|Watch the customers hands.|
|Keep 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.|
|Watch customers with open packages,
shopping bags, oversized handbags and purses.|
|Never 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
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, Im 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.