Did you know that more than $25 million worth of merchandise is stolen from retailers every day? That’s the word from the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention, confirming that shoplifting is a huge part of retail shrinkage.

Whether you’re a small, medium-sized, or large retail business, you’re not immune to the growing problem of shoplifting. Below you’ll find information about how to identify and prevent—or at least reduce—shoplifting incidents in your store.


Recognizing Shoplifters

As a retailer, it’s essential to be familiar with types of shoplifters, common methods of stealing, and knowing what to look for in shoppers exhibiting strange behavior.

According to Romeo Richards of Profit Improvement Experts, shoplifters can be difficult to profile because they come from all walks of life—whether they be social, ethnic or economic groups. In other words, shoplifters can be old, young, rich, poor, employed or unemployed.

For this reason, visual cues—based on demeanor, appearance or movement—may be easier to identify. A shopper dressed in a winter jacket in the middle of summer and carrying an empty bag can alert you to someone who’s a potential thief. Or, you may notice that a female shoplifter is carrying more than one purse or handbag.

The Balance also suggests that you pay attention to the following behaviors:

  • A person who pays more attention to the employees then the merchandise.
  • Someone who picks up random items, “pretending” to examine them.
  • A person who walks in the opposite direction of employees—every time you move, they move.

Common Theft Methods Used by Shoplifters

Shoplifters may operate alone or in a group. Typically, when working in a group, one person is used as a decoy to distract loss prevention personnel. When the loss prevention personnel hone in on the supposed thief, the accomplice snatches merchandise and makes his escape.

Thiefs often conceal stolen merchandise in everything from newspapers and umbrellas to strollers or car seats set in shopping carts. Additionally, they may stash stolen items inside of bags with products they’ve already paid for. Shoplifters also use dressing rooms to change into stolen clothing items and leave their own clothes behind or put them on over the stolen outfit. Additionally, small items can be hidden in gloves or stashed deep pockets.

Individual shoplifters tend to steal at a particular time of the day and/or week, points out Profit Improvement Experts. Because shoplifters don’t like to be noticed, they tend to steal when the store is full of shoppers, like during lunch hours, or on weekends. Stores that are open 24/7 tend to be hit by shoplifters late at night or early in the morning.

As you can see, there are numerous methods shoplifters can use to steal merchandise from your store. The more you familiarize yourself with shoplifter behavior, the better equipped you’ll be to prevent future losses.


How to Reduce Shoplifting Incidents

“Shoplifting, like any crime, is impossible to eliminate,” says Profit Improvement Experts. But you can take steps that will make your retail store a harder target for thieves.

Employees trained in shoplifting awareness are one of the most effective tools in preventing shoplifting. Additionally, training your employees to offer exceptional customer service is also a good shoplifting deterrent. Why? When approached by a member of your staff, an authentic customer will feel valued and appreciated. A shoplifter, on the other hand, may exhibit nervous behavior. After all, the last thing a shoplifter wants is to be noticed.

The strategic layout and merchandising of your store is also a viable tool in combating shoplifting. High-value items should be positioned in locations that make them difficult to remove from your store.Try not to create “hidden” spaces in the store where employees can’t see what customers are doing. You don’t want to block views where shoplifting may easily occur, plus hidden areas may affect your ability to serve your customers better.

Anti-theft signs that warn shoplifters of prosecution is a low-cost way to discourage shoplifters and other suspicious characters. These warning signs should be placed close to the entrance of your store, near fitting rooms and in—or around—restrooms.

Electronic Article Surveillance (EAS) tagging systems pose physical and psychological obstacles for shoplifters. While some shoplifters are learning ways to thwart the system, it still remains an effective tool in reducing loss by theft, especially among amateur and juvenile shoplifters.

Retailers should have inventory controls in place and follow common security practices that help prevent losses resulting from shoplifting. The Balance suggests that you ask yourself the following questions when creating your loss prevention policies:

  • How should you approach a customer you suspect?
  • What is the proper way to confront the suspect?
  • Who is your primary contact if you suspect a person of shoplifting?
  • What documentation is necessary for shoplifting incidents?


Nearly $17 billion is shoplifted from retailers annually, accounting for more shrinkage than any other source, according to the National Retail Federation.

While you can’t control when or how you’ll be targeted by shoplifters, you can manage your loss prevention methods.

Take steps to train your staff in shoplifting awareness, merchandise your store strategically, and follow good security practices to help reduce losses from theft and ensure that your retail store is holding on to the revenue you’ve worked so hard to earn.

About Author

Sherene Funk

Sherene Funk is a novelist and voracious reader who owns more books than she can ever read in this lifetime (but that doesn't stop her from collecting more). A graduate of Brigham Young University, she has published several humorous non-fiction articles and worked in advertising for many years before moving to her current position as a writer on modern retailing at Rain Retail Software. She researches non-stop to see what successful retailers do and loves to share what she learns with other small business owners through informative articles that address their unique needs.

Also published on Medium.

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