The crime of shoplifting is the taking of merchandise offered for sale without paying. Shoplifting accounts for more than 40% of reported shop losses annually. Shoplifting has become a large part of retail shrinkage.
No matter how big or small the retail store may be, all types of retailers are susceptible to the growing problem of shoplifting. This information is designed to assist retailers to identify shoplifters and shoplifting measures, create a less attractive environment for shoplifters and to encourage retailers to implement shoplifting policies and procedures to protect their store against theft.
In a situation where your business continues to experience ongoing theft after following these recommendations please seek further advice from either your local police or Wynnum District Crime Prevention Coordinators on (07) 3308 8180 or (07) 3308 8181.
We have listed some strategies to assist you in dealing with loss prevention. Please ensure all staff members are aware of these key points where a shoplifter is suspected.
Many of these thieves work in groups of two or more to distract the sales staff while they pilfer. Shoplifters learn to take advantage of staff during peak hours or they may strike at times when employees are less alert, such as opening, closing and shift changes.
Hiding merchandise is the most common method of shoplifting. Items are concealed in the clothing of the shoplifter, in handbags, strollers, umbrellas or inside purchased merchandise. Bold shoplifters may grab an item and run out of the store. Other methods include price label switching, short changing the cashier, phony returns, and so on.
Spotting a Shoplifter
Unfortunately, there is no typical profile for a shoplifter. Thieves are of all ages, race and from various backgrounds. Shoplifters can be placed in one or two categories, professional and amateur. While both groups can be quite skilled at the art of thievery, professional shoplifters steal to make a living and may use force or intimidation. The non-professional shoplifter may be easier to spot.
However, there are some signs that should signal a red flag for retailers. While the following characteristics don’t necessarily mean guilt, retailers should keep a close eye on shoppers who exhibit the following:
• Spends more time watching the sales assistant than actually shopping.
• Wears bulky, heavy clothing during warm weather or coats when unnecessary.
• Changes to bag shapes; ie the bag went from small in size to large in size indicating more has been placed in the bag.
• Walks with short or unnatural steps (which may indicate that they are concealing lifted items).
• Takes several items into dressing room and only leaves with one item.
• Seems nervous and may pick up random items without much interest.
• Frequently enters store and never makes a purchase.
• Large group of shoppers entering the store at one time. A member of the group causes a disturbance or asks about a specific product in a far corner of the store to distract sales staff allowing others to steal goods.
If your store has been designed to reduce shoplifting, another form of prevention is to use customer service techniques to take away opportunities to steal. Strategies include:
• Staffing: Schedule an adequate number of shop assistants to work at one time.
• Greetings: Greet every customer that enters the store. This lets the customer know you are aware of their presence.
• Be attentive: Make yourself available to all customers and never leave the store unattended.
• Receipts: Give each customer a receipt for every purchase. Any customer requiring a refund must produce a receipt. Dispose of any discarded receipts immediately using a shredder.
• Stay focussed: Don’t allow customers to distract the shop assistant while another person is being served.
• Bag check: Implement a policy and procedure for backpacks and bags brought in by customers.
• Alert: If you notice suspicous activities, alert other shop assistants, other nearby store keepers and Centre Security immediately. Many stores have a security code to alert staff of possible shoplifters.
• Helping hand: Approach the suspicious person and ask if he/she is finding everything okay. Mention that you’ll be nearby should he/she require any assistance. Make the shoplifter feel watched.
• Control the quantity of items in change rooms: Make the customer privy to the fact that staff are aware of how many items have been taken into the change room. Offer assistance to people in the change room to limit opportunities for theft.
• Tag swap: Shop Assistants should watch price tags and be on the lookout for tampered price tags or tag switching. Know your store prices or confirm the price if your attention is drawn to a tag when processing a sale.
• Hidden items: Shoe boxes, pocket books, baskets with lids and any other product easily opened should be inspected by cashiers to be sure it does not contain other merchandise.
Owner/Employee Rights and Responsibilities – when dealing with a suspected shoplifter
• Theft has only occurred when a person has left the store and has failed to pay for the item.
• If you suspect the person has stolen property from your store, you can ask them to return to the store while the police are called to attend.
• You cannot make the person return or remain in your store.
• You have NO legal right to restrain any person at any time. You can be charged with assault if you try to physically detain them.
• Call Centre Security if available in your Centre to assist you.
• Upon approaching the suspect, tell them who you are and show them identification.
• Ask the person to surrender any property which does not rightfully belong to them.
• You are NOT entitled to conduct searches of the person.
• It may be the store’s policy to conduct bag inspections however you do not have a legal right to search a person’s bag or property.
• The person DOES NOT commit an offence by refusing to have their bag searched.
• You can ask the person to leave the store and you can refuse the person future entry into your store.
• If refusal is ignored then you can contact store / Centre Security or the police to have the person removed. Do not continue the conversation if the person starts to become aggressive.
• Contact local police and provide the following information:
Your name, location & nearest cross street or location in the shopping centre, your contact telephone number, type of offence (e.g. shoplifting), the full name and date of birth of the suspected offender (if you have it) and the suspect’s current behaviour & whether they are still in the store.
If you would like to receive regular crime prevention information by way of electronic crime bulletins please email DCPC.Wynnum@police.qld.gov.au to be added to the distribution list.
Disclaimer: This article contains general guidelines only in relation to shop theft. The Queensland Police Service in providing this information makes no representation nor gives any warranty or guarantee concerning the safety of persons or property.