Thwarting Shoplifters this Holiday Season

November 03, 2008

Law enforcement and retailers across the country are reporting an increase in shoplifting and expect the amount of theft to continue to rise over the course of the holiday season. It is generally accepted that the economy is to blame for the rise in shoplifting, and for retailers looking to thwart shoplifters, your Better Business Bureau is offering guidance to help prevent theft.

The National Retail Federation estimates that retail theft now accounts for more than $40 billion per year in losses. The NRF also recently surveyed retailers and found that nearly all were in agreement that shoplifting was on the rise this year. While in the past shoplifters were stealing pricey items to perhaps support a drug habit, some law enforcement agencies are now reporting spikes in losses when it comes to the everyday basics, such as groceries.

“It is estimated that shoplifters are caught only once for every 48 times they steal, so it is important for businesses to take a serious approach to discouraging and thwarting thieves the very first time the individual walks into their store,” said Robert Shomphe, BBB President/CEO. “Otherwise, the shoplifter will come back again and again because they know the risk of getting caught is low.”

BBB offers a few simple tips to retailers on identifying shoplifting tactics and steps they can take to prevent theft:

Signs of a Shoplifter

  • While shoplifters come in all shapes and sizes, there are a few common traits to look out for including baggy clothes, loitering, an awkward walk, nervousness and lack of eye contact.
  • Common techniques include swapping price tags, layering stolen clothes in dressing rooms, creating a diversion during which they will pocket items and the “grab and dash” technique with items close to the doors.

Staff Training

  • A well-trained staff is the business owner’s best defense against shoplifters. Staff should be educated on how to identify shoplifters and their techniques, as well as empowered to take action.
  • Good customer service is a great way to thwart shoplifters. Staff should be encouraged to greet customers when they enter the store. It’s a friendly gesture, but it also tells potential shoplifters that the staff is vigilant and paying attention.

Store Layout and Policies

  • Ideally, businesses should be free from blind spots where shoplifters can take cover. Remedies are as simple as installing mirrors or rearranging displays.
  • In order to limit theft of expensive items, such goods can be displayed behind locked glass and kept a safe distance from the entrance.
  • Shoplifters will often steal items in order to return them for a refund. To minimize this, retailers should have a strict policy requiring a receipt for returns.
  • BBB also recommends business owners create a detailed policy for steps employees should take when confronting a shoplifter. While some businesses are wary of contacting the police to report shoplifters due to the threat of lawsuit, many experts advocate that businesses should report all shoplifters to the police.

Get outside help

  • There are many businesses that provide various services to prevent shoplifting. This includes electronic surveillance tag systems, closed circuit cameras, and undercover shoppers. Retailers can also retain the services of security consultants who can train employees and recommend specific steps the business can take to reduce theft.
  • Local law enforcement is also a superb resource and can offer advice on preventing shoplifting, as well as updates on current trends in the area.

For more advice on protecting small businesses this holiday season, visit BBB online at