10 tips to prevent shoplifting

How to control shrinkage in retail businesses is a major question for both new and experienced store owners. Losses attributable to shoplifting can destroy a business that might otherwise have been successful. There are many steps you can take to lower your risk, ranging from good planning to use of powerful technology. Here are 10 actionable tips that will prevent inventory shrinkage and provide return on your investment.


Assess the situation

Use your inventory control system to determine the extent of your problem and identify the types of merchandise being stolen. This will help you make informed decisions. For instance, small items can be secured in a display cabinet whereas large items could be moved farther from the store exit.

Ensure good line-of-sight and lessen temptation

Shoplifters want to avoid being seen. Take steps to ensure maximum visibility by providing good lighting and open displays. Avoid high shelving that can provide concealment.

Post signs warning shoplifters that they will be prosecuted and that video surveillance is in effect. If you're concerned about offending customers, consider wording like, "We want to keep our prices low, so we use video cameras and prosecute shoplifters. Thank you!"


Do an objective vulnerability assessment

Walk through your store as if you were a determined shoplifter. Look for areas that are out of view of employees, then address these by modifying the store layout or by monitoring with video cameras. Mirrors can also be effective but ensure that they are visible to provide maximum deterrence.

For areas that prove challenging, use them to display large or heavy items that would prove difficult to conceal. Make sure employees are aware of any "blind spot" areas and encourage them to walk through these areas regularly.


Provide meaningful employee training and policy

Employees need to know expectations regarding deterrence and handling of shoplifters. One very effective technique is to leverage good customer service. Specifically, greet every customer as they come into the store. Whenever possible, make eye contact. If a shopper is walking around while carrying merchandise, offer to hold items at the register as a courtesy. If someone is glancing around and/or watching employees, approach and ask if assistance is needed.

If an item is dropped into a pocket or purse, inquire as to whether the subject would like the item rung up now or held at the front while they continue shopping. Shoplifters want to go unnoticed, so the more attention they get, the greater the deterrence factor. However, this doesn't mean employees should stalk innocent customers.

Training can prevent problems and is a good way to ensure expectations are understood. Employee staffing should be adequate to lessen vulnerability. A single clerk on duty when school lets out may invite problems


Use electronic article surveillance (EAS) technology

Theft prevention tags attach to individual items and are "neutralized" when they go through a point of sale. Items that have not been rung up properly trigger an alarm when they pass by a detector. Radio frequency identification (RFID) tags have become popular and recent advancements allow RFID devices to also support inventory management because merchandise can be uniquely identified.1


Invest in a good security camera system

Today's video cameras are more capable and less costly than their predecessors. High-definition captures mean that you can detect subtle actions, and thieves can be identified. Make sure cameras cover your problem areas and that customers can see them.

Engage with a vendor that has a comprehensive solution at a price you can afford. Make sure your system is capable of remote viewing, preferably using a web app or smartphone. This will allow you to remotely check activity in your store. In the event of an after-hours burglary, you can confirm a crime in progress. Law enforcement gives higher priority to confirmed video observation than an unverified alarm activation.


Consult local law enforcement

Many agencies have a business liaison or crime prevention specialist who can provide guidance. Some have published shoplifting prevention guides and make them available on-line. Check out the San Diego and Winston-Salem Police Departments for examples.2,3


Secure high-value merchandise

If you want to let customers be hands-on, then use tethers that also serve as an alarm if an item is removed. If you want an employee involved, put the items in cabinets that permit viewing but require an employee for access. Having a visible security camera provides an additional deterrence.


Consider a Business Watch collaboration

Within the business context, this means both proximity and type of business. In other words, businesses that are within a community shopping area should look out for each other and businesses of a specific type (e.g. antique shops) should network even if they're separated by significant distance.4 Thieves will often target the same type of business or try to resell stolen merchandise to a competitor. Good communication can fight this.


Be aware of new challenges

No discussion of shoplifting would be complete without mentioning flashmobs, a relatively new challenge that involves a large group entering a store and then running out with merchandise.5 The sheer suddenness and unpredictability make flashmob activity almost impossible to prevent. Here's what you should do ahead of time:

  1. Work collaboratively with adjacent businesses and police/security to develop a plan and share information. Agree on a notification methodology that will be quick and result in specific action (e.g. store lockdown).

  2. Educate employees so that they can watch for pre-event indicators like someone scouting the store or strange comments on your company's social media.

Clearly convey expectations—such as activating an audible alarm—while making safety a priority. It's usually best to be a good witness and leverage store security systems to maximize prosecution and recovery of merchandise.


How to control shrinkage in retail

In sum, good planning and the use of technology can reduce inventory shrinkage due to shoplifting. A small investment today can provide significant return tomorrow.

1. RFID Technology and Its Use in Asset Protection." LPM. May 16, 2018. Accessed June 20, 2018. http://losspreventionmedia.com/insider/loss-prevention-technology/rfid-technology-and-asset-protection
2. SPDP Crime Prevention. "PREVENTING SHOPLIFTING." April 20, 2017. Accessed June 20, 2018. https://www.sandiego.gov/sites/default/files/preventingshoplifting.pdf
3. "City of Winston-Salem | Preventing Shoplifting." City of Winston Salem. Accessed June 20, 2018. http://www.cityofws.org/Departments/Police/Crime-Prevention/Handouts-and-Web-Links/Preventing-Shoplifting
4. "Business Watch." National Neighborhood Watch | Neighborhood Watch, Crime Watch, Business Watch, A Program of NSA. Accessed June 20, 2018. https://www.nnw.org/business-watch
5. "Flash Mob Robbery and the Retail Threat." LPM. February 22, 2018. Accessed June 20, 2018. http://losspreventionmedia.com/insider/retail-security/flash-mob-robbery-and-the-retail-threat/