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How to Prevent and Handle Shoplifting in Retail

How to Prevent and Handle Shoplifting in Retail

Shoplifting is a downright pain to deal with. You’ve spent months, years, or decades building your business, and your brand, and now, you’re having to deal with criminals and thieves trying to steal your inventory, and damage your business.

Well, worry no more. We’ve put together an extensive list explaining how to prevent shoplifting, how to spot shoplifters, what to do when you spot one, and what to do if you have been stolen from. Let’s get started.

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Shoplifting is a major problem for retail businesses. The British Retail Consortium’s Crime Survey for 2023 found that ‘£953 million was lost to customer theft, with eight million incidents of theft over the year’ during 2021/2022. And, that shoplifting reportedly increased, more recently, by as much as 85% by the City of London Police, during 2022/2023, according to the BBC. Shoplifting, now more than ever, is an epidemic. Here’s how we recommend to reduce the risk of shoplifting offences affecting your business.

How to prevent shoplifting

Of course, you can’t ever guarantee that you will permanently end the risk of shoplifting, either now or in the future. You can, however, prevent shoplifting by deterring potential thieves. Here’s how:

Know peak shoplifting times

Shoplifters don’t necessarily have an alarm on their phone telling them it’s time to steal something. Well, some might. But, the point is, you can’t know for certain when shoplifters will target your business.

They are more likely, however, to target your business at peak times. Peak times are whenever your store is at its busiest. This, typically, is between Wednesday and Saturday. And, normally between 12PM to 2PM and 4PM to 7PM. The same applies for high-demand shopping seasons such as Easter, Summer, Black Friday, and Christmas. Make extra effort to ensure you’re well-staffed during these periods.

Have security cameras installed

You’ve likely already thought about this. You’re even likelier to have had security cameras installed already. If, however, you have not yet had security cameras installed, well, now is the time.

Security cameras have been hailed as one of the first barricades against shoplifting as it offers preventative benefits to discourage thieves. People are less likely to do something illegal if they know they’re being watched.

Invest in security tags

Security tags, more officially known as electronic article surveillance, are small, electronic devices that you can attach to your stock that, if taken out of the store past any store alarms, will make a loud noise alerting staff to a potential theft. These are most commonly used by apparel stores for clothes.

Security tags aren’t the cheapest, especially if you need a lot of them, but they should be considered against the loss in profits you may incur if your business is the victim of shoplifting.

Invest in Anti-Theft Detectors

We’ve already covered security tags. But, they won’t work if you don’t have anti-theft detectors in place. These can be located at the entrance of your business to detect any items, that have not been paid for, that pass by the detectors. Of course, these can become pricier depending on make and model. Plus, if you have multiple stores, you’ll have to invest in multiple systems.

If your business is on the smaller side, you can implement a buzzer, or even an old-school bell, that rings whenever someone walks in, or out. Incredibly simple in design and function, but still helpful in alerting your staff whenever you have someone new walk into the store.

What to do after you’ve been robbed

If you have been stolen from, it can be difficult to know what steps to follow next. There are, however, some measures you can take to ensure that the shoplifting, or robbery, in question doesn’t happen as frequently in the future.

Conduct some ‘crime mapping’

Try to ‘map’ out where the thefts are taking place in your store. You can use your security footage to help you with this if you’re unsure. Keep a record of the locations, dates, and times where any incidents took place. This is called ‘crime mapping’.

You can now begin to work out what you can do to reduce the likelihood of such an incident happening again. Do your employees have good visibility of the area in question? Were you targeted at a time when your shop was busy, or when you were understaffed? Working through what happened, and when, can allow you to assess and improve any weaknesses you have with your security.

Implement a strict refund and returns policy

Don’t let thieves take advantage of you twice. Unsure how they might do this? Well, some thieves will steal something from you, and then try to return it. So, if you don’t want to add insult to injury, we’d recommend implementing a really strict refund and returns policy. If your customer cannot provide proof of purchase, either through a receipt, or maybe even a bank transaction showing they purchased something from your store, then, unfortunately you’ll have to refuse them a refund, and/or return.

Make use of your electronic point-of-sale system

Your point-of-sale system should have inventory management software included. This will allow you to match the number of items sold versus the amount of inventory you have left. If you find there are any discrepancies, and you’re sure that some stock hasn’t broken, or already been accounted for, you’ve likely experienced a theft without even realising it.

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How to spot a shoplifter

We’ve covered what to do to prevent shoplifting, and even what to do after it happens, but what should you do when you think you have seen a shoplifter about to commit a crime?

We understand that you might not be psychic, or clairvoyant, in any capacity, so it may be challenging to know what someone is about to do, or when they are about to do it. But, there are a number of habits, behaviours, and tendencies you can look out for to spot a shoplifter before they steal from your business.

Here’s what to look out for:

  • Attempting to avoid being noticed
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Scanning where your staff are, and what they are doing
  • Exhibiting nervous, fidgety behaviour
  • Wearing large coats, or bulky clothing, even in hot weather
  • Walking in and out of the store without buying anything

Needless to say, if someone exhibits one, or some, of these behaviours, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re planning to steal from your business. But, they are worth bearing in mind.

Note: Also, please note, shoplifters can often work in pairs, or teams. Shoplifters can work on stealing your inventory, whilst someone else distracts your employees. So, having multiple people on your shop floor at any given time is generally recommended.

How to deal with shoplifters

Once you’ve coached your team on what to do if they see someone who looks a tad suspicious, you’ll now need to create rules about what to do if you have caught a shoplifter in the act. Here’s some best practices to approach the situation:

1. Establish shoplifting probable cause: If you suspect someone of shoplifting, and plan to detain them, you must have probable cause. Probable cause means that either you, or your staff, has a reason for detaining them. This could be that you witnessed the person take your inventory, without paying, and trying to leave the store.

2. Confront them: If you decide to confront the suspected shoplifter, approach them when they have exited the premises. It’s obviously best to have security in instances like this, but, if you don’t, try to approach them with multiple people.

When you approach the shoplifter, immediately identify yourself. Always have a form of ID to show the suspect. Once you have presented your credentials, say to them “I’m with [X Store], and I would like to talk with you about the [stolen items I believe you have on your person].”

Aim to retrieve the merchandise before going back into the store so you can confirm the theft before detaining the shoplifter.

3. Escort them back into your store: Take the shoplifter back into your store. You may want to have more than one escort to keep them from running or endangering other people in your shop. Once inside, make sure they have not stolen any other items from your store.

No one wants to think about being robbed or stolen from, but as a business owner, you need to think about these scenarios and prepare for them.

Lightspeed makes it easier for you and your team to run your business, so you can focus less on admin and devote more energy on the sales floor. Watch our free demo here.

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