How to Prevent and Handle Shoplifting in Your Retail Store

Woman Stealing Bottle Of Wine From Supermarket

It goes without saying that shoplifting is a major problem in retail. A 2014 study by the National Retail Federation found that shoplifting accounts for 38% of shrinkage, and was costing retailers $32 billion a year. That’s a huge chunk of revenue. To help you keep the income you deserve, we’ve put together some tips for preventing and dealing with shoplifting.

Read more below.

Prevent it from happening

The best way to “deal” with shoplifting is to stop it from taking place. Here are tips to help you do just that:

Have the right security tools

humorous warning to shoplifters posted in a store window

Set up the necessary tools to deter shoplifters. Ideally, you should have video cameras installed in your store so you can get illegal activities on tape. Some video solutions even integrate with your POS or retail analytics software to deliver extra insights for loss prevention.

If cameras aren’t in your budget, know that there are low-cost tools that can prevent shoplifting. Signage is a popular choice among merchants. Anti-theft signs by your entrance/exit or even by your dressing rooms can serve as a deterrent for would-be shoplifters.

You could also install mirrors in strategic places to eliminate blind spots and track what’s going in every corner of your shop.

Provide “in-your-face” customer service

Tools are great, but they can only take you so far. To minimize shoplifting incidents, instruct your staff to greet and engage with every customer who walks through your doors.

Aside from demonstrating excellent customer service, this tactic can also deter shoplifters. Often, when wrongdoers are aware that they’re being watched, they’ll be less likely to act.

This is the main strategy of Jay Gurewitsch, owner at ArcadiaNYC for minimizing shoplifting opportunities. “I minimize the opportunities by keeping sightlines clear and obvious so that customers know we can see them at all times,” he wrote on Quora.

“And far more important, we engage EVERY customer as they come in the store; my rule is they must be greeted with a smile, a hello, and an invitation to help or answer any questions they may have within 10 seconds of walking in the door. NO exceptions. If they are a cell phone, we still do it, in the hopes they get off the phone to respond to us.”

Additionally, the staff at ArcadiaNYC go even further by continuing to interact with shoppers as they browse the store.

“If they are looking at something, we may tell them something unique about that product in passing as we go to help someone else or restock a shelf. Ideally, we keep such pitches to one sentence, e.g., ‘that vase is handmade in Massachusetts’,” Gurewitsch continued.

“It allows the customer to ask any questions they have, and from the loss prevention perspective, it tells them we know they have it in their hands. If that vase is not back on the shelf when the customer moves on, we know they have it, and more importantly, they know we know they have it.”

Recognize the signs

Educate your staff on how to spot potential shoplifters. Signs of suspicious behavior include:

  • Avoids eye contact
  • Looks at the staff instead of the products
  • Goes in and out of the store repeatedly without completing a sale
  • Wears bulky clothing (i.e. jackets or coats) when unnecessary
  • Enters with a large group

Tidy up

A disorganized store makes it easy for shoplifters to steal while making it harder for you to spot if anything’s missing. This is why as basic as it sounds, you need to keep you shop tidy at all times.

Set up products or fixtures in such a way that you can quickly check if anything is missing. If possible, keep products visible at all times.

How to handle shoplifters

Sometimes, even the best deterrents can fail to discourage stubborn shoplifters. So, what should you do if you find yourself dealing with a shoplifter? That depends on many factors including your location, the size of your store, the price of the item they attempted to steal, etc.

Situations vary from store to store, but here are some general guidelines that’ll help you navigate this unpleasant situation:

Know how the law works in your area

Laws around shoplifting vary from one state to the next, so it’s best to get familiar with the laws in your area. For instance, in some jurisdictions, merchants cannot approach a suspect until they have exited the store. Other states may have different laws. Swing by your local police station so you can talk to a law enforcement professional about what you should do if you find yourself dealing with a shoplifter.

You may also want to take this opportunity to get their contact information, so you know who to call if you find a shoplifter in your store.

When to confront a shoplifter

If you suspect that someone is attempting to walk away with your merchandise, here are the steps you should take to effectively confront and apprehend them.

1. Establish shoplifting probable cause – You must first have probable cause if you plan to detain a person suspected of shoplifting. This means you or your staff must have witnessed the person take your merchandise and attempt to leave the store without paying for them.

2. Confront them – If you decide to confront the suspected shoplifter, approach them when they have exited the premises. According to security expert Chris E McGoey, it’s best to have additional personnel with you when you approach the shoplifter.

“A good rule is to outnumber the suspected shoplifter by a least one. The extra personnel usually prevents the suspect from fighting or attempting to flee. A female back-up is best if a female suspect is being detained,” he wrote on his website.

When you approach the shoplifter, immediately identify yourself. Always have a form of ID to show the suspect. If you have loss prevention personnel who aren’t in uniform, see to it that they have their badge or ID handy.

“The presentation of credentials should occur simultaneously with the words “I’m with ACME Stores, and I would like to talk with you about the ‘two bottles of ACME wine’ in your bag,” adds McGoey.

From there, aim to retrieve the merchandise before going back into the store so you can confirm the theft before detaining the shoplifter.

3. Escort them back into your store – Take the shoplifter back into your store. You may want to have more than one escort to keep them from running or endangering other people in your shop. Once inside, see if there are any other items you can retrieve, then tally the costs.

What’s next?

The next course of action depends on your shoplifting policies. Some stores choose to prosecute and involve the police. In some cases, merchants may choose to just retrieve the merchandise and ban the shoplifter from the store. Whatever you decide, be sure to communicate your policies to your staff to avoid confusion or mistakes.

Share your thoughts

Have you ever encountered a shoplifter in your store? How did you handle the situation?


About Francesca Nicasio

Francesca Nicasio is Vend's Retail Expert and Content Strategist. She writes about trends, tips, and other cool things that enable retailers to increase sales, serve customers better, and be more awesome overall. She's also the author of Retail Survival of the Fittest, a free eBook to help retailers future-proof their stores. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Google+.

  • John Urbeto

    They forgot to mention anything about detaining vulnerable adults or minors. They forgot to mention about making sure that the allegedly stolen items are secured and returned to the store (it is a useless piece of work to arrest someone only to find that the incriminating articles have been abandoned somewhere, unnoticed)
    This piece also neglects to mention about those who secrete property in a place for others to pick up later. By being obviously a ‘shoplifter’ they distract attention form the less obvious ‘courier’ who actually carries the goods from the store.

    Of course, ultimately, the best means of reducing theft in-store (by non-staff) is to return to the days when people were not allowed to help themselves. Ironically, in some places this would now have great retail cachet and with a bentwood chair for the customer to sit on – you would get a reputation for the most excellent service as well as no losses!

    • We appreciate the feedback, John!

      Laws around detaining individuals may vary, so we didn’t go into too much detail in this area. As for securing items that were allegedly stolen, the piece does mention how retailers should retrieve items when they confront the suspect. It also talks about tallying the costs of the merchandise.

      Thanks for adding some tips. You brought up a very good point by talking about people who distract associates so their accomplice could steal goods. This is something that retailers should definitely be aware of.

      Thanks again for weighing in!

      • joe

        What a sap john is. Get your own blog buddy. Rest your neck.

        • Christopher Madden

          A sap? 1945 is calling, they want their phrase back.