This year’s survey statistics are certainly ones that every retailer should give special attention. Shoplifter apprehensions are up seven percent (7%), and dollar recoveries up twenty percent (20%). A sure sign that the shoplifter problem is not only getting worse, these thieves are stealing more! Of particular concern is the fact that the greater majority of our participating companies truly practice theft preventative strategies and utilize state-of-the-art technology. Yet, shoplifters just keep coming! Sure, we all know that organized rings are a most serious problem, such as that group of eight who were recently apprehended in Florida and charged with stealing and reselling nearly $100,000 in merchandise taken from drug stores and supermarkets.
We also can’t ignore amateurs such as those three teenagers who were recently caught using a 12 day-old baby to help conceal goods in a car seat under the infant. Nor can we overlook others like the mother and daughter caught shoplifting in a department store, or the justice of the peace caught on camera. Then there are those who make national news, such as reports of shoplifting allegations against the mother of those two alleged Boston bombing suspects—this list could go on and on. Bottom-line, there simply is no profile to help you identify your potential shoplifter!
Keep in mind, that those shoplifters in our survey, and those reported by the media are the ones that were actually caught. How many shoplifters are actually identified? Could the answer be one in 10, 24, 50, or even higher? No one knows the answer to this difficult question. However, my decades of experience teaches me that using a twenty-to-one ratio is a conservative estimate.
If you think shoplifting is not a problem in your store – Think again! These thieves are everywhere, and come from every background imaginable. Here’s my perception of the problem:
- Decline in Honesty: Today, it’s difficult to listen to a news report, or pick up a newspaper without being made aware of some act of dishonesty being discovered in government, business, sports, or religious organizations. Today, our culture is getting more and more permissive—those disgraceful acts mentioned above, as well as such “trivial” crimes as shoplifting are no longer viewed as a humiliating or embarrassing situation.
- Poor Economy: Staff cutbacks in retail stores have all but destroyed one of the retailer’s most effective deterrents—customer service.
- Drug Problems: Shoplifting is a favorite way for addicts to support their habit.
- Smarter Hardcore Thieves: Groups of brazen thieves simply ignore, or go to great extents to defeat state-of-the-art anti-theft equipment.
- Legal factors are also playing a role in the elevation of this crime. For example, it is well known that the lack of serious consequences in the justice system does little to discourage shoplifting—most shoplifters do not go to jail. Repeat shoplifters are given probation, or a “slap-on-the-wrist”, which is due to lenient state laws, and/or jail overcrowdings. More and more states are issuing citations to misdemeanor shoplifters, further minimizing the severity of this crime in the offender’s eyes. Last, but certainly not least, various states have raised their felony theft thresholds (i.e. to as much as $2,000) before the suspect can be charged with a felony. Hardcore thieves know which states have severe laws and they mostly prey on those that do not. (These thieves also target stores known not to prosecute.)
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So, what is one to do? Again, my perception:
1. Shoplifters, be they professional, hardcore, or amateur, want and need privacy to commit their act. Customer service is STILL the most effective deterrent to shoplifting. Sure, we all know that floor coverage has been greatly reduced because of the slow economy, and thieves also know that the lack of salespeople on the floor have greatly enhanced their chances of being successful.
2. Keep your staff alert to the severity of this crime, and provide brief anti-theft pointers at each meeting—better yet, a daily brief reminder can do no wrong. If theft prevention is a priority to you, it will also be a priority to your staff.
3. Talk with local police and find out what type of problems are happening in close proximity to your store. See what tips or assistance the police will provide. For example, Rochester New Hampshire police have in place a website that enables retailers to share information on shoplifting incidents at their establishments. For information, contact Tracy Hayes (no relation) at: Tracy.Hayes@rochesternh.net.
4. If your location is equipped with anti-theft equipment, make sure it is working properly, merchandise tagged that should be protected, and your staff is well versed in what action they are to take when a security system sends an alert. $