Many times, shoplifting is dismissed as merely “the cost of doing business”. But, with slim profit margins, shoplifting can be the difference between being profitable or not.
In the U.S. in 2016 the average inventory shrink rate increased to 1.44%. The Canadian numbers are most likely very similar. About 40% of the loss is from outsiders, 30% from employee theft, the balance of the loss is in administrative errors and vendor fraud. The total cost to business is staggering.
The most commonly stolen items include, clothes, books, music, jewelry, watches, tires and car parts. Many associate shoplifting with bubble gum and candy bars, but much of it’s organized gangs targeting mom and pop stores and retail chains.
Using anti-theft tags can help but does require an ongoing cost and an investment in the monitoring technology. If you have not considered video surveillance…you should. Technology has lowered the costs and improved the quality of camera systems. Having a monitor(s) hung prominently in your location can provide a deterrent as visitors will immediately know they are being watched and recorded. Signage that tells visitors that there is monitored video surveillance can go a long way to prevent theft. A camera system that is recorded also protects you from internal HR problems. When employees know the location is monitored, behaviour tends to improve. It also can help prevent internal theft.

Minimizing Shoplifting

But there are other things you can do as well to protect your business and reduce inventory shrinkage.
1. Your staff should greet customers as they enter your store. By making contact, it sends a message that your staff is engaged and interested in the visitors’ activity. This can deter a potential shoplifter that wants to be anonymous.
2. When customers avoid eye contact, seem nervous, linger, or exhibit suspicious behaviour, it’s important to engage them. Ask them if they require assistance. If it’s an actual customer they will appreciate the help, if not, they will likely find an excuse to exit the premises.
3. Encourage your staff not to sit behind the counter, but to walk around the store, down all aisles.
4. A clean and organized store sends a message that you are paying attention to your store. Keeping your shelving in aisles low enough that you can see over them, and make sure you have adequate lighting, no dark corners.
5. Keeping adequate manpower in your store is critical. With only 1 person on staff, it’s easy to become distracted by thieves pretending to be clients. Make it a policy to have staggered lunch breaks, to insure as many hands and eyes can be on deck at all times. A shoplifter is less likely to target a well staffed store.
6. Keep commonly stolen and easy to steal items (small) in a highly visible area such as the front of the store and or near the cashier.
7. Keep expensive inventory items in display cabinets that can be locked. Limit access to senior employees.
8. Working with your neighbouring businesses can also reap benefits. Have your employees log suspicious activity to share with their coworkers at shift changes and with neighbours. Working together on video surveillance coverage so there are no blind spots or coverage gaps can also save money and increase your security.
9. It’s important to draft an official company policy on Shoplifting. It should be enforced and posted so customers and employees are aware of it. Provide staff training on how to handle and prevent shoplifting situations. Instruct employees on how and when they should be calling for support from security or police and management. Staff should feel safe.
10. If you have fitting rooms, keep the doors locked and require customers to see a sales person to gain entry. Limit the number of items allowed into change rooms and record the quantity taken inside. Post anti-shoplifting warning signage inside.
In the unfortunate event that you suspect someone of shoplifting, exercise caution. Your personal safety should always come first. Ask if you can help or ring up the order. Make a point to record a detailed description of the person, and vehicle if relevant. Contact security, your manager and police as necessary. If you have video surveillance, let the authorities know and provide them with the images.

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Allan Baum
Security Industry veteran with over 30+ years in the industry. Founded family owned and operated Protection Plus in 1994 with his wife and has overseen its growth since. In addition to working with his wife and son, Allan has assigned the role of Chief Canine Officer to his trusted dog Waub, who joins him at the office every day.