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Shoplifting Prevention from the mouths of thieves

Posted on 10/19/10 9:24 AM

Thefts caused by shoplifters, either amateurs or professionals, cost retailers billions of dollars annually in lost profit. Investing millions into technology and resources, retailers are always looking for insight as to how they can best deter a shoplifter and reduce these losses.

Members of LP Innovations recently took part in a workshop through the Loss Prevention Research Council (LPRC) at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Among the many topics discussed was the opportunity to hear from and interview actual shoplifters to learn why they shoplift, how they were most successful and what would deter them from shoplifting at a particular retailer.

The panel of shoplifters was made up of mostly young adults who for several years, even as juveniles, shoplifted. These shoplifters would steal primarily for their own personal use (need) but by their own admissions to some degree for friends or even to sell on online auction sites.  They are part of a program conducted by the LPRC to learn more about shoplifting, why people shoplift, and the best approaches to shoplifting prevention. The following is a recap of a couple key areas of our discussion and admissions from the panel.

Employees First

There was no doubt that these shoplifters stated that attentive salespeople and sales management would be the primary deterrent to them shoplifting at a location. Employees, who approach them, seek to assist and continue to monitor them throughout their visit, will make it more difficult for them to have that personal time to steal.

Above technology, including camera systems, this panel stressed that an employee who stays close by or is roaming throughout a location will make them more nervous about stealing or concerned about being identified as a potential shoplifter. Members of this panel also stated that it was easy to spot most store detectives (it is the way they dress said one shoplifter), and store management was the most difficult to “shake” and would cause them to abort their attempted theft if they think they were being watched.

Loss Prevention Technology

By far the most financial investments made by retailers to prevent shoplifting is in the area of technology. From EAS systems and tags, camera systems, video recorders and other tools, the amount of equipment and technology within single retail locations can be substantial. When asked about technology and its role in preventing thefts there was a mixed bag of comments.

Overall, most were not concerned about cameras themselves. According to the panel, one of the first things they did was scope out a store or the desired area and see if and where any cameras exist. If cameras were present and they wanted the item, they would just take the item, walk away and steal it somewhere else. Cameras and their locations themselves did not seem to be a problem for this group.Wandering eyes resized 600

Many were more concerned about being video recorded and identified rather than just the existence of any cameras. Their biggest concern was having their picture shown in the newspapers or television and labeled as a shoplifter. Others however, stated cameras didn’t bother them and even if they had recorders connected to the camera system it would mean that someone is either watching the camera or reviewing the video recording to see them actually steal at that time.

EAS tags may or may not prevent them from stealing. The existence of tags played less of a role than the placement of the security tag . Several of these shoplifters claimed to carry a pocket knife, tack or some other sharp object to easily remove packaging and pull items out to ensure there is no security tag attached. When it came to apparel or soft goods, benefit-denial tags, such as ink tags, were those that would deter them the most from stealing an item. Hard plastic security packaging as used with video games, DVD or other electronic devices also seemed to provide enough protection to prevent this group from stealing them.

What does this mean for retailers?

It is not often where retailers and solution providers can hear directly from actual shoplifters.  Understanding that this panel was not a completely “honest” group based on their admitted actions, we had no reason not to believe their statements about their past crimes against retailers. So what does this mean to retailers trying to prevent shoplifting?

The main point coming from this workshop was that employees do play a major role in shoplifting prevention and it starts with good customer service. From greetings, interaction and continued customer service, engaging your customers not only helps with sales but also the possible deterrence against shoplifting.  Stressing good customer service and customer engagement may be the best deterrent to shoplifting. Good shoplifting prevention through customer service comes from;

  • Good Hiring Practices

  • Structured Training 

  • Employment Retention

  • Loss Prevention Awareness

As it comes to technology, there is most certainly a need for its existence in the prevention of shoplifting and loss. How much is needed or how much is an unnecessary overkill? The LPRC is working on that project as well. Stay tuned.

Written by David Johnston, Director of Business Development

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Topics: training and awareness