Southeast Missouri State University

Shoplifting costs Americans over $1 billion annually. Everyone pays for this crime; the businessman in lower profits and every customer who must ultimately pay through higher prices.

Theft of a $2.00 item from a store operating on a 10% profit margin requires the sale of $20.00 in merchandise to make up for the loss. Supermarkets and others operating on low margins of 1% must sell $300.00 in merchandise just to cover the theft of a $3.00 item.

No one can afford the cost of shoplifting. This crime can be substantially reduced, through public awareness and positive action.

Who Is Stealing From You?

  1. Juveniles: Juveniles make up nearly half of all shoplifters. Many do it just for thrills--to "beat the system." Some teenagers even shoplift in gangs to see who can steal the most.
  2. General Public: Persons who have become bored or want to stretch their budgets frequently shoplift "a little at a time" while doing their legitimate shopping.
  3. Drug Addicts: These people shoplift to support a very expensive habit. They are sometimes armed and often dangerous because they are so desperate for money.
  4. Kleptomaniacs: Kleptomaniacs are persons who steal because of psychological compulsion. Stopping the kleptomaniac is a service to both the community and to himself.
  5. Professional Shoplifters: These people are skilled thieves who have specialized tricks to steal from you. The pro is the hardest to deter and the most difficult to detect. His major targets are expensive items.

Alert Employees: Your First Line of Defense

Sharp-eyed, alert clerks are the shoplifter’s worst enemy. Employee training must include the following steps to prevent shoplifting:

  1. Greet customers upon entering the store. Courtesy and attention is good for the business, but bad to the shoplifter who shuns attention.
  2. Watch the customer’s eyes and hands. Jittery eyes and nervous hands are frequent clues.
  3. Keep a watchful eye on people who just wander about the store.
  4. Be on the lookout for persons who enter the store carrying large packages, big purses, shopping bags, or who are wearing unusually bulky clothing.
  5. Be on your guard against distracting situations. Pros often work in pairs--one to distract your personnel with chatter or an argument, and the other to actually steal merchandise while you are not paying attention.
  6. Avoid placing more than one valuable item on the counter at a time when showing it to a customer.
  7. Never leave a locked display case unlocked, even for a minute.
  8. Do not let customers carry more than three articles of clothing at a time into the dressing room.

Training your employees to detect and prevent shoplifting should be a continuing effort. Your police department can assist you in employee training programs.

Preventive Action Every Business Must Take

Inexpensive modifications to your store and procedures can create several obstacles to the shoplifter. When you increase the risk of his getting caught, the criminal will frequently look elsewhere for an easier mark.

Just as you advertise for customers, you must also advertise against shoplifters. Post warning signs that you are on guard and that you will prosecute shoplifters. Honest customers will appreciate this because they realize shoplifting is costing them money, too.

Valuable items are the shoplifter’s favorite marks, and therefore deserve special treatment. Move them away from walls where they can be seen from more than one angle. Keep them out of reach, either under locked glass or behind a counter. If this is impossible, place them near a cash register or clerk’s station. Arrange them neatly so any missing item will quickly be noticed.

Where possible, fasten down small appliances used for display purposes. "Dummy" displays are excellent crime prevention techniques. It is a good basic policy to keep high-priced merchandise away from store exits.

Always remove empty hangers from clothing racks after the article has been purchased. That way, an empty hanger becomes a signal that a shoplifter is at work.

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