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Shoplifting Apprehensions: Being Right vs. the Cost of Being Right

Posted on 9/21/10 6:52 AM

The latest statistics from the FBI estimate that there are over 2900 shoplifting incidents per day in the United States.  Even given the fact that as many as 75% of these thefts may initially go undetected, these numbers add up to thousands of shoplifting apprehensions all over the country in any given year.  While most of these stops happen day in and day out with little attention paid by anyone, every once in a while we see the evidence of a bad stop show up on the news or on the internet.

I recently watched a video on YouTube that showed two security guards from a nationwide specialty retailer attempt to detain two men for shoplifting.  In the video, the guards are seen tackling one of the suspects and placing him in a choke hold.  While the actions of this one security guard are likely throwing money awaynot condoned by the retailer, the fact of the matter is that this retailer’s policies and training regarding shoplifting apprehension put this guard into the position to make this stop.  In this age of internet-friendly devices, at any given moment in any retail environment in America, you are likely surrounded by at least one cell phone that captures video (and probably a lot more than that) and has the ability to post this content to the internet.  Because of this trend in technology, the number of incidents of bad shoplifting stops receiving media attention has been heightened.  Certainly specialty retailers have a right to stop a shoplifter in their stores assuming they follow all of the rules for a productive stop, but perhaps we need to ask ourselves  if being right is worth the cost of being right. 

Even in the best case scenario with a stop that does not go as badly as the one mentioned above, there are still a multitude of costs associated with having an apprehension policy for shoplifting.  Aside from the tangible costs of personnel and technology (which can be excessive), there are also several intangible costs we must address:

  • Injury – In any shoplifting apprehension there is an inherent risk of injury either to the employee, the shoplifter, or an innocent bystander.  Is any amount of merchandise really worth someone being seriously injured or killed?

  • Litigation – Even with the best shoplifting apprehension policies and training in place, people still make mistakes.  The costs of litigation stemming from a nonproductive stop or injury can be large, particularly if punitive damages are assessed by the court.  Does the apprehension of a shoplifter for a $50 item really justify a $50,000 lawsuit?

  • Media Backlash – Just like in the instance above, the chances of the apprehension being posted to a site like YouTube are very real.  If the video goes viral the resultant media backlash can literally lead to decreased sales and a reduction in the stock price.  As loss prevention professionals, our role is to increase shareholder value – shouldn’t that include making sure we are not the reason the company ends up in a media frenzy?

  • Disruption of the Customer Experience – Every single shoplifting apprehension causes a certain amount of disruption for other customers.  When a customer leaves the store, do you really want them to be focused on the shoplifting apprehension they saw and heard?

The question becomes, should specialty retailers focus more on the deterrence and disruption of shoplifting rather than the apprehension?  Is focusing on utilizing customer service related tools like face-saving questions to disrupt a shoplifting in progress a better approach than waiting to apprehend a shoplifter? 

Understanding that shoplifting does factor into the loss of profitability, specialty retailers should maintain the right to apprehend shoplifters, but most of the time the costs associated with exercising that right are far too high. 

What are your thoughts on shoplifting apprehension in a specialty store environment? Do you prefer deterrence and disruption of theft or apprehension? Leave us your comment.

Written by Kevin Griggs, CFI

Kevin Griggs, CFI is a 15 year veteran in the loss prevention industry and an Account Executive at LP Innovations where his role is to build proven loss prevention solutions for retailers in all industries and segments.  Kevin can be reached at kgriggs@lpinnovations.com or on twitter at @KevinGriggs_LPI.

Topics: policies and procedures