Preventative measures to stop shoplifting and identify suspicious behaviour.

The serious threat shoplifters pose to all businesses.

According to a study conducted by the Retail Industry Leaders Association and Buy Safe America an estimated $68.9 billion worth of products were stolen by retail thieves across the United States in 2019. Retail crime, including shoplifting, resulted in $125.7 billion in lost economic activity and about $39.3 billion in lost wages and benefits to retail workers.

The most direct consequence of shoplifting on businesses is loss of profits. Every product lost to criminal behaviour affects profit margins, and the ability to turn revenue into profits. High levels of retail theft can significantly impact profitability and in extreme cases can lead to business losses or even closures and bankruptcies. The knock-on effect of this is that customers will have to pay more for products to offset the costs of lost inventory due to shoplifting.

Shoplifting also has other impacts on businesses like the cost of tightening security measures to counteract thieves and increased customer service training for staff. Staff morale is also impacted as employees are constantly on the lookout for suspicious behaviour.

There are different types of insurance available to cover stock losses and inventory shrinkage as a result of shoplifting. These are expensive and do increase as claims are made, this means that many businesses only claim shoplifting losses if they are significant, resulting in businesses having to foot the bill for theft from their retail stores.

What social and economic factors drive individuals to shoplift?

There are many reasons that people partake in shoplifting, some do so out of necessity while others are part of large organised crime syndicates. There are also those who steal due to psychiatric disorders.

Social and Economic Factors 

People shoplift for a variety of reasons, from poverty to criminality. In many circumstances, particularly when America was grappling with the economic consequence of the pandemic, people shoplift to survive. According to the Washington Post retailers and law enforcement noted a significant increase in people stealing essential items like food, hygiene products and diapers since the beginning of the pandemic. So, in many instances repeat offenders steal out of necessity.

In other instances shoplifters are criminals who steal for economic gain. Most often they are part of bigger crime syndicates and work in groups. Shoplifting is a job to them, and how they make a living.

Other social and economic reasons for habitual shoplifting include thrill-seeking. This most often occurs in young people who are attracted to risk-taking behaviours. On some occasions, shoplifting can also be attributed to human error and absent mindedness. This can often be as a result of medication, cognitive disorders or even just being in too much of a hurry.

Psychological Factors

Addiction is a psychiatric condition that often contributes to shoplifting. People steal from retail premises to fund or pay off debts related to gambling or drug and alcohol addictions.

There are also a range of psychiatric disorders that result in habitual shoplifting. Repeat offenders often steal because they are compelled to do so as a result of compulsive psychological disorders like kleptomania. Shoplifters who steal for these reasons often do so as a cry for help.

What are the legal implications of shoplifting?

It goes without saying that shoplifting is a crime and there are criminal penalties for offenders if they are caught, the most serious of these being jail time.

In most states shoplifting is charged as a theft or larceny offence and in the majority of cases is deemed petty theft or a misdemeanor. Whether a case is deemed a misdemeanor is usually determined by the value of the merchandise. In some other states, shoplifting is differentiated from general theft and is deemed a less serious offence or an infraction rather than a misdemeanor. Charges will differ depending on whether the offender is a teenage or adult shoplifter.

In the USA store owners and retail staff do have powers to execute a citizen’s arrest if they suspect shoplifting. They have temporary arrest powers and can hold a suspected shoplifter for as long as it takes for law enforcement to arrive and question or formally arrest the suspect. A store owner may detain someone on suspicion of shoplifting if they have collected evidence that leads them to believe that a suspected criminal has tried to steal property from the store. This occurs more often in areas where arrest rates for shoplifting are high and offenders are more likely to face criminal penalties.

It’s important that anyone who detains a suspected criminal can prove that they have witnessed an incident of criminal concealment. If an individual is unlawfully detained without evidence of any wrongdoing, they can take legal action against the retail store’s owners. Wrongful imprisonment charges are possible when a person is unlawfully detained and there is no evidence, no visible concealment or a bias against the person because of discrimination. In order to pursue unlawful detainment charges the victim must be able to prove that they were confined in a location without permission to leave.

Behavioural traits that help you to identify potential shoplifters?

There is no “typical” shoplifter, they can be any age, race, gender and socioeconomic background. It’s important to look beyond the obvious and recognise common behavioural traits that may indicate that someone is trying to conceal and steal items.

There are many shoplifting techniques a shoplifter might use to steal products; these may include; changing price tags, trying to remove security tags, actively concealing merchandise on their person and unwrapping items to more easily conceal it. There are a few tell-tale signs that a would-be shoplifter might display that indicate trying to hide criminal behaviour.

Frequent Visits

A shoplifter might visit a location multiple times before they ultimately steal anything. These people might browse the store often without making a purchase or making very small purchases.

Split-up Groups

Shoplifters involved in crime syndicates will often visit stores in pairs or groups. The groups will often split up and one or more people will distract staff while another will steal items. If trained effectively staff will be able to pinpoint behaviours that indicate that a group may be part of a crime syndicate including; asking time consuming questions, taking advantage of busy periods, engaging in disruptive behaviour, trying to make phony returns amongst other unusual behaviour.

Oversized, Unseasonal Clothing

It’s important for retail staff to take notice of individuals wearing oversized clothing, or winter clothing during summer as these may be tactics used to conceal merchandise. Large, open bags are also a trait to look out for, particularly if the individual is showing other suspicious traits. Unusual lumps in clothing can also demonstrate that someone is concealing merchandise without paying for it.

Suspicious Changeroom Behaviour

Would-be shoplifters will often take many items into a changeroom or will go into a change room in a group. This is often to create confusion amongst staff.

Other Tell-Tale Shoplifter Traits

There are many signs of shoplifting that a criminal might show that retail staff should be on the lookout for. These include;

  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Watching the staff, not the merchandise
  • Loitering and lurking in less visible areas of the store or near an exit
  • Excessive sweating
  • Carrying multiple items
  • Obstructed faces with things like hats, scarves, or sunglasses that cover up parts of their face
  • Rapidly exiting the store

Should employees be monitored to deter stock shrinkage?

There are many ways to prevent inventory shrinkage and stock losses. One effective way is to monitor employees and implement penalties to encourage loss prevention activities by onsite retail staff.

By monitoring staff performance and giving penalties for significant stock losses while they are on duty they will be more involved in monitoring for and preventing shoplifting. Monitoring staff will also have an impact on reducing staff theft or staff members being involved in shoplifting themselves.

What precautions can business owners take to deter shoplifters?

Shoplifting is a serious threat to a retail business’s bottom line. There are ways to deter thieves that should be a part of any retail premises stock loss management strategy.

Physical security

Having security guards onsite, as well as actively involved staff, go a long way to preventing shoplifting. Would be criminals are much less likely to steal from a store with staff who engage with them and who is watching them. Security guards also offer a layer of security that offers a deterrent.

Video surveillance

The most obvious security option is video surveillance. A video surveillance system allows you to check on your customers and employees and provide a visual deterrent to prospective criminals. Cameras also capture any criminal activities, which will act as evidence if a business ever needs to prosecute a shoplifter.

Signage and Mirrors

Signage is a great way to show visitors to a store that they are under constant surveillance. It also serves as a warning that anyone caught shoplifting will be prosecuted. They are a great way to put thieves on edge and deter them from criminal activity.

Security mirrors are also a good way to track customers in the store and add another layer of surveillance that may deter shoplifting.

Physical deterrents

Physical deterrents on merchandise are a good option to prevent stock shrinkage. These can include; security tags, lanyards and putting valuable items in locked cases. These are highly effective ways to ensure that shoplifting is curbed.

Checkout counter

The positioning of a store’s checkout counter is also an important aspect of stock loss management. A checkout counter at the front of the store in close proximity to the exit means that prospective criminals would have to walk past checkout staff as they exit the store. This gives an additional layer of security and deterrence. If the counter is a distance from the exit it is a good idea to have a staff member or security guard manning the store exit as a deterrent.


Shoplifting is on the rise in America, without effective management it can have serious implications for retail businesses. It is an unfortunate part of the retail industry and can cause your business to incur major losses if not taken seriously. With the tools in this article, you will be able to better understand and take steps to prevent shoplifting in your retail business. No matter what solution you choose, you can work to deter and hopefully prevent criminal behaviour and shoplifting.


What is shoplifting?

According to shoplifting is a form of petty crime where someone attends a retail premise and takes items without paying for them. NASP states that; both men and women shoplift. and about 25% of shoplifters are underage. 55% of adult shoplifters say that they started shoplifting in their teens.

Shoplifting is deemed a form of larceny in that it is the unauthorized removal of the property with the intent of permanently depriving the owner of said property. Some states have laws specific to shoplifting, which are a variation of larceny with the addition that the entity deprived of property is specifically a retailer.

What are the different types of shoplifting?

In order to manage shoplifting in your retail store, it is important to understand the different types of shoplifters and their motivations.

Amateur shoplifters steal for their personal gain. They’re often motivated by economic or psychological reasons. They’re more often opportunistic and are more likely to be put off by visible, physical deterrents. In many cases, they steal due to a compulsive disorder like kleptomania or in order to provide essentials for themselves or their families.

Professional shoplifters steal in order to sell merchandise to other buyers. They’re most often part of a larger crime syndicate and have a plan in place. This category are often either involved in organized retail crime or they may be drug users stealing to support their addiction. It is much easier for professional shoplifters to sell goods now as they are able to sell goods online which removes some of the onseller risks of selling stolen goods in person.

Whether you are dealing with professional or amateur shoplifters, a great way to slow them down is to attach anti-shoplifting devices to the merchandise.  Even If this doesn’t stop them in their tracks, trying to remove a device will slow them down and give you a chance to catch thieves in the act.

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