Sun. Oct 18th, 2020

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Detect, Deter, Observe, and Report

How to Catch a Shoplifter

5 min read
loss prevention officer doing retail security

In 2014, Price Gun identified shoplifting as America’s #1 property crime. According to their count, there are 550,000 shoplifting incidents a day. Multiplied by 365 days in a year, that’s 200,750,00 (two hundred million, 750 thousand) incidents a year! (On the unfortunate leap years, it’s 201,300,000 but who’s counting?) This costs the industry $10.3 billion every year. 

Myths of Identifying Shoplifters

Before we dive into the how’s, let’s look at what not to do.

First, don’t assume there’s a profile for shoplifters: there is none. Not even age, since adult shoplifters usually started in their teens and just kept going. If you have a mental profile, you create your own blind spots. 

Second, 7 out of every 10 shoplifters make a decision to shoplift when they are already in the store. In other words, they come in without betraying their intent, because they have intent. Your chance to catch them is when they take action.

Shoplifting Red Flags

Red flags do not automatically demand attention. The best way to guard your shop and yourself is to stay observant, note the red flags, and know the store protocol on shoplifters.

Do they linger near the entrance / exit?

Hit-and-run shoplifters need an easy path to freedom. If they steal to sell, and don’t steal for themselves, grabbing a general quantity of a certain kind of good works. If they stick around the entrance or exit, browsing extensively but not expressing interest in the rest of the store, that’s a red flag.

Do they linger in a particular aisle?

If you see a customer lingering too long in an aisle, staying in one section and looking around, they may be waiting for an opportunity. That’s a red flag; don’t give them that opportunity. 

Do they watch the store personnel?

Every person who enters a shop wants something. They want to buy something from the shop, pass the time, or avoid a person on the street. Usually, the store personnel are just a neutral part of the shopping experience. However, for a shoplifter, they’re an active part of the shoplifting experience. Anyone who takes more notice of the personnel than the merchandise is putting up a red flag. (Even if your personnel are attractive, consider the red flag to be safe.)

Do they bring too many items into the dressing room?

If your shop sells clothing, beware of those who try on multiple items in a large bundle at a time. It gets way too easy for potential shoplifters to run away with an item or two. Limit the number of items anyone can bring into the dressing room, or (this is more demanding) count the number of items each time anyone goes in. 

How to Catch a Shoplifter

You start before a shoplifter takes any action. The ideal outcome is that a potential shoplifter finds it too inconvenient to take anything from your store. In a shoplifter’s profiling stage, be a hard target to hit. 

Greet your customers as they enter

Hi, welcome! Thank you for shopping here! That’s what your greeting means to any innocent customer. To a potential shoplifter, it means, We noticed you enter! We see what you’re doing in here! Simple and direct, but effective.

Ask how you can help them

If someone is lingering just a bit too long over a shelf, especially if they took down an item, train your store personnel to politely ask how they can help that customer. It doesn’t need to be invasive, and your personnel don’t need to get too close. They just need to let any potential shoplifter know that they see the item they’re holding, and that the personnel will know if it doesn’t make it back to the shelf. 

Chase them, but don’t forget your employee ID

Know the policies in your area. In some places, just seeing someone put merchandise in their bag might not be enough “reason” to make an accusation. Often, potential shoplifters need to actually make it out of the store for you to take action. If you feel like someone’s about to make a run for it, signal your fellow personnel or the store manager, so they can back you up.

If you do chase the suspected shoplifter, don’t forget your employee ID, and don’t forget your manners. You can call out to them respectfully and say, “Excuse me, you forgot something!” Most people respond to this—they won’t risk leaving something behind. Your suspect will probably keep going.

If you do manage to catch up, introduce yourself and show your ID. This lets even onlookers know you’re there on official business. You can invite the suspect back to the store, if you would rather not make a scene. If the suspect refuses, then don’t be afraid to ask about specific merchandise you believe they took from the store. If they try to walk away, then you can actively call security. Don’t make a scene, always stay calm, respectful, and as clear as possible. 

Know your store’s protocol

Police presence can be good or bad for your store. It might be bad for store publicity, but good for overall store security in the future. Know the preferences of the store managers. If they lean more towards preserving store publicity, your shoplifters might end up with a warning and getting banned from the store. If they prefer to let the police step in, then follow that protocol. 

When to Be Extra-Careful

Times of increased activity are red flags in themselves. Experienced shoplifters are more prone to striking:

  • During peak hours
  • During shift changes
  • On afternoons
  • On weekends
  • During the summer
  • During holidays

That increased activity might be all the encouragement they need before they act. 

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