According to the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention (NASP) shoplifters cost retailers upwards of $13 billion each year. That’s roughly $35 million per day. If those numbers don’t give you pause for thought, you need to think again. Shoplifting accounts for approximately 33% of all inventory loss suffered by brick and mortar retailers in the US, and no business serving the public is immune to those statistics. 

You’ll hear it said that the costs associated with shoplifting are simply the price of doing business. To some extent that may be true. It’s unlikely that we’ll ever totally eliminate theft from the retail environment. But that doesn’t mean you should sit back and take your losses in stride. Left unchecked those losses will threaten your profits and, ultimately, your business itself. Fortunately there are steps ever business owner can take to reduce shoplifting in their retail outlets. 

Identifying Shoplifters – What to Watch For… 

It’s important to remember that thieves come in all shapes and sizes, and are drawn from every gender, race and age group. There is no single characteristic that defines a thief, and more often than not the customer you least suspect may turn out to be your shoplifter. 

To spot a retail thief you have to look beyond type and evaluate behavior. Most shoplifters rely on stealth to get what they want. Occasionally you will encounter someone who simply grabs an item or two and then high tails it for the door, but in the majority of cases shoplifters try to conceal what they intend to steal. That means hiding merchandise somewhere about their person, either under their clothing or in a handbag. Shoplifters will also try to hide merchandise in strollers, backpacks and otherwise innocent looking shopping bags. 

A thief’s demeanor and general behavior in the store can also be a tip off that they are after some free merchandise. Consider the following warning signs that may indicate a potential shoplifter is working the floor: 

  • Paying more attention to employees than to the merchandise
  • Picking up items seemingly at random
  • Moving merchandise around the store
  • Avoiding direct contact with employees

Educate Your Staff – What to Watch for Part 2 

The first, and best, line of defense in the battle against retail theft is a well-educated staff. Employees need to be trained to spot potential shoplifters and instructed in how and when to intervene. 

The following loss prevention tips can help employees reduce the risk of theft on the shop floor: 

  • Sprout Funding logoBe hyper aware during the store’s peak hours, particularly opening and closing.
  • Pay extra attention to customers with bulky clothing, strollers, backpacks and handbags.
  • Pay attention to customers randomly moving merchandise around the store or passing items to other customers.
  • Watch for label or price tag switching.
  • Take note of customers who spend too much time watching employees and their movements.
  • Beware of shoppers who try to distract employees. Remember, shoplifters often work in groups with one person acting as decoy while the others steal merchandise.

Employees should also be instructed to greet all customers as they enter your shop. Thieves need to fly under the radar, and simply greeting them and asking if they need help with a purchase can often be enough to deter a shoplifter. If, however, your employees suspect a shopper of stealing any merchandise they should immediately call in a manager to handle the situation. 

Loss Prevention through Organization 

Organization is key to preventing in-store theft. A dimly lit, poorly laid-out, shop is an open invitation to shoplifters. However, if you organize your shop with an eye toward loss prevention you can greatly reduce the opportunities shoppers will have to steal from you. 

For example:

  • An open floor layout gives employees improved visibility for all areas of the shop, making it harder for thieves to escape the view of staff members.
  • Floor displays that are too tall, or that otherwise block your employees view of parts of the store, can give shoplifters the cover they need to slip merchandise into a carryall or under a coat. Keep those lines of sight open.
  • Keep higher ticket items, and any merchandise that is more prone to theft, as close as possible to the cash register.
  • Position your cash register at the front of the store and make sure that cashiers can maintain a clear view of the floor even while serving customers.
  • Always keep your store well lit. Dim lighting and shadowy corners give shoplifters extra cover for lifting merchandise.

Deterrents – Signs, Mirrors and Security Cameras 

A large part of preventing shoplifting in any retail environment is implementing the right set of deterrents. Signs, mirrors and security cameras are the most effective options for small businesses, and can go a long way towards minimizing the risk of theft in a busy shop. 

  • Signs – The posting of “NO SHOPLIFTING” signs does double duty. In the first place it notifies potential thieves that you are actively monitoring your shop. It can also have legal ramifications should you decide to fully prosecute any shoplifters that you report to the police.
  • Mirrors – Mirrors are an inexpensive way to improve visibility throughout your store. No matter how carefully you lay out your shop floor there will always be corners and aisles that are difficult to actively police. Well-positioned mirrors will give your staff valuable lines of sight to those areas, allowing them to keep a watchful on your merchandise.
  • Security Cameras – Video surveillance is one of the most effective deterrents, and over the years it has become increasingly affordable. Multi-camera systems can now be purchased for a few hundred dollars, putting them within reach of nearly every small business owner.

    Security cameras should be carefully placed to focus on high traffic areas of the store, particularly those that may otherwise be obscured from view. Don’t try to hide your cameras. While the video record of a theft is necessary for any prosecution, what you’re after here is deterrence. You want potential thieves to see the cameras and know that they are being watched. Posting signs stating that you have video surveillance in place is always a good idea.

Have a Strong Shoplifting Policy in Place 

Finally, it is important to have shoplifting policies and procedures in place so everyone on staff knows how to handle the situation. Deterrents and surveillance are all well and good, but sooner or later you and your employees are going to have to deal with an active shoplifter. Having a strict shoplifting policy in place, and instructing staff members in acceptable procedure, is critical. Keep in mind that there are legal ramifications to confronting suspected thieves, and you should always consult local law enforcement when developing your shoplifting policies and procedures

When developing your shoplifting policies be sure to address the following key areas: 

  • How should employees approach a suspicious shopper?
  • Should staff confront shoplifters or should they report the incident to management so that a police report can be filed?
  • Who should employees contact in the event of theft?
  • What documentation is needed to follow through with a police report?

Once you have developed a workable shoplifting plan, and one that adheres top local laws, make it a point to train all employees in your store’s policy and procedures. It is important that staff not only know how to spot a shoplifter, but also when and how to confront them

In Conclusion 

There are estimated to be roughly 27 million shoplifters at work in the United States today. A large portion of those thieves will go uncaught and unpunished, largely due to ineffectual policies and procedures in place at the stores they target. While it may not be possible to totally eliminate shoplifting from the retail environment there are steps every business owner can, and should, take to reduce their risk and minimize any financial losses due to theft. 

If you haven’t taken steps to combat shoplifters in your retail outlets now is the time to turn proactive. The few simple tips we’ve outlined here can help business owners of all types reduce the instances of shoplifting in their shops and keep their hard earned profits where they belong – in the bank.