Retail theft happens every 5 seconds in this country. How is your store handling the shrink? Do you feel like you could do better? Or does it feel like too much of a challenge to get under control?
Shrink from retail theft happens to all stores, no matter the size. For example, recently a woman was arrested in a Nordstrom's where she stole over $1,000 worth of clothes and watches by hiding it in her bag.
The good news is that there are shoplifting prevention options at any price level. Retail security services are great - but not everyone can afford them. Larger stores can invest in state of the art cameras and multiple loss prevention guards onsite at all times. Smaller stores with less cost can still prevent shoplifting with efficient and low tech goods. It just takes a little knowledge and execution. So let’s get started!
Shrink, or shrinkage, is the loss of inventory that can be attributed to factors including employee theft, shoplifting, administrative error, vendor fraud, damage in transit or in store and cashier errors that benefit the customer. Shrinkage is the difference between recorded and actual inventory. One of the most common and preventable is shoplifting.
First, let's get to know our shoplifters. There are two basic types:
these thieves typically attack larger stores with lots of inventory with the goal of getting valuables and reselling them for a profit. They are very detailed and often have quite complex plans when it comes to stealing goods.
these thieves usually attack smaller stores. They are impulse thieves, meaning they don’t plan to steal but walk in and see an opportunity and decide to grab. Doesn’t matter the goods or the environment - it’s an impulse. They see something they want and don’t want to pay for it. A quick (bad) decision tells them they can get away with stealing it.
Since most small stores deal with the second type of shoplifting far more often, that’s what we’re going to focus on today.
It can be hard to spot them, because any race, gender, or age can be a shoplifter. However there are some traits to help you identify suspicious characters in your store. Crime Prevention Service for Business at Rutgers University says “look at how people dress, act, and move, and what they carry”. Basically they enforce not to judge someone on their skin color or age. Instead look if they act suspiciously or carry concealable items like large purses or shopping bags.
Another thing to look for is that shoplifters don't like crowds. They will purposely avoid busy isles and staff members. They will also try to shop during odd times of day when there is less staff on the floor. This reason is because they don’t like being watched and want to limit the possibility of being caught red handed. Good customer service is a natural defense against this. Having staff always nearby, friendly, and helpful will be a benefit to your actual customers and naturally deter against shoplifters.
Some products are easy to conceal and sneak out, which make them easy targets for opportunistic thieves. For example, small items like accessories, cosmetics, CD’s, etc. are all small and easy to hide in clothes or bags. By knowing this you know which items to pay more attention to when displaying in a store.
For example, some stores like to keep their jewelry behind cases to keep tabs on where they are and prevent customers from accessing without help. Other stores often put extra staff near the CD’s and DVD’s to have extra eyes on them at all times.
Empty spaces in shelves are a quick sign that something’s missing. However if your store is messy and unkempt it can be hard to spot those out of the ordinary blank spaces. If you have aisles with lots of boxed or bagged products, keep them neat and clean and pulled to the front of the shelf. That way a quick scan will tell you if something is out of place.
This tactic is commonly used in grocery stores. Large isles with hundreds of boxes can be overwhelming for keeping track of inventory on the floor, but a quick scan for spaces makes it a little easier. Plus keeping everything flush makes a better experience for the shoppers, who feel more at ease in the isles.
Not only is knowing the high risk items helpful - it’s also helpful to know the high risk customers. Thieves will often work in pairs or groups. This makes it easier as a strategy because one or few can keep staff preoccupied so the others can go unnoticed. They commonly like to hide items in bags, under heavy clothes, strollers, or already purchased merchandise. Pay attention to groups that stay close together with the ability to hide items out of site. However be warned that not all customers are out to get you - don’t sacrifice customer service!
Make sure to have plenty of staff on the floor to assist and watch patrons. Have staff near the door to both greet customers and pay attention to people entering and leaving the premises. If impulsive thieves don’t feel like they have an opportunity to sneak something away, they won’t try anything.
If your staff works together to identify and watch suspicious activity, it will be easier to deter criminals and scare of potential threats. Staff is a team and will appear stronger as a unit to potential criminals.
When you know the high risk items and methods of impulsive shoplifters, you can adapt to prevent them. For example you can put your registers by your exit, forcing people to pass by the staff and cameras when they leave. You can eliminate blind spots in the store, which are places people can hide and not be seen by staff.
They let customers know that they’re being watched and taped. Research shows that signage like that doubles compliance in a retail store. Other visual cues would be a doorman. Lots of stores like Whole Foods implemented a security officer or employee to greet customers as they enter and leave and not only does it provide additional customer service but it deters would be criminals for fear of being captured.
It can be a hard question to answer and honestly I can’t tell you why people steals. Often times kids will try it maybe for a toy or a piece of candy. Some adults even feel forced to steal due to extreme hardships in order to eat. Everyone seems to have a different experience and most thieves will tell you a different excuse.
Unfortunately most impulsive thieves steal simply because they want something. A thief can convince himself that whatever he’s stealing is rightly his and can take it with no remorse or guilt. And it can be even easier for someone to steal from larger, more anonymous stores because they don’t have to visualize anyone suffering due to their actions.
However store owners do recognize that there is damage from shoplifting. It affects the store owners, the distributors, even the floor staff. To protect your assets and your staff and continue to provide a great experience for your customers for years to come - preventing shoplifting becomes a necessary piece of the business model.
If you’re a small retail store owner now is the time to start preventing. Fortunately some knowledge and work on the floor with staff can make the difference. Good luck and be safe out there!