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Updated 16 Jan 2021

The real cost of shoplifting on your retail store (and how to curb it)

Can you afford to lose inventory and profits to shoplifters? Here are a few strategies you can consider for your business to help protect your shop – and bottom line.

30 March 2018  Share  0 comments  Print

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There were 51 503 cases of shoplifting in South Africa in 2017 according to the SAPS. Shoplifting, employee and supplier theft, and administrative errors are causing shrinkage in the SA retail sector, which is costing retailers billions annually.

No matter the size your retail store, every retailer is susceptible to the challenge of shoplifting. To reduce and potentially prevent shoplifting in your store, it’s advised that you consider creating a less attractive environment for shoplifters.

You could develop shoplifting policies and procedures to protect your store against theft, but first you need to know what you’re looking for.

What shoplifting behaviours are you looking for?

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To recognise and stop shoplifters, familiarise yourself with the different types of shoplifters, their methods and how to recognise customers exhibiting strange behaviour. A majority of shoplifters attempt to conceal their theft, but there are also rare times when they will grab stock and run.

“Shoplifters tend to target small items that are easily concealable, removable, available, valuable (either to the thief or to potential purchasers), enjoyable and disposable,” says Matthew Dyball, managing director of loss prevention firm, Lodge Security.

Related: 7 tips for protecting your retail business from theft

Shoplifters generally have a plan on how they will remove merchandise from your store. For example, they’ll hide items under a long coat, or in a handbag or purse. Be vigilant of shoppers wearing a long coat in hot weather or carrying more than one handbag.

Shoplifters can also conceal items in:

  • Strollers
  • Clothing
  • Umbrellas
  • Between bought items within the shopping bag.

“I once caught a shoplifter in my store who bought a pair of shoes and then went back into the hosiery department and was placing socks and belts into the bag,” explains Matthew Hudson, CEO of leading retail expert firm, Hudson Head.

Hudson advises you remain aware of these additional warning signs:

  • Someone who pays more attention to the employees than the merchandise.
  • Shoppers who pick up random items and ‘pretend’ to look at them.
  • People who walk in the opposite direction to employees. Each time the employees moves, they move.
  • If you’re an apparel store, keep track of how many items customers take into the fitting rooms and how many they come out with.
  • Irregular customer behaviour such as customers splitting up so one can distract your staff member, or nervous shoppers and shoppers who come into the store often, without buying anything.

Preventative measures to curb shoplifting and theft

“Shoplifting incidents rise during busy retail hours, especially on weekends and afternoons as the store workers are generally less focused on petty theft and shoplifting.

This makes it easier for items to be stolen and concealed by perpetrators without detection,” says Graham Wright, Head of CGCSA Crime Risk Initiative.

Wright explains that managers should rather identify problem areas instead of reacting retrospectively. “We also need to bear in mind that shrinkage causes defensive merchandising, which results in stock outages and reduced sales that ultimately frustrates the shopper.”

Related: How to prevent employee theft in your retail store

When designing and implementing loss prevention strategies, keep your shoppers in mind. Wright says: “The last thing you want to do is annoy shoppers with overzealous and intrusive security measures whilst trying to deter shoplifters.”

Strategies you can implement in-store

  • Good store management can be one of the most effective tools to prevent shoplifting. Consider your store layout, adequate inventory controls and follow common security practices to combat shoplifting. Ensure you don’t have hidden places in your store that block customers from view. Your employees need to be able to see customers at all times, not only to prevent theft, but to offer service too.
  • Combine technology like electronic article surveillance tags with CCTV cameras, to see what is happening in your store, and sensors at your doors to prevent potential shoplifters from getting away with your inventory. Mirrors will also make it easier for employees to see the entire store from particular vantage points.
  • Implement proactive service. If your employees are actively engaging customers, it’s very difficult for shoppers to attempt to steal from your store. Proactive service also tells the shoplifter that they are being watched.
  • A shift in company culture, could also assist you in reducing your business’ theft level. Make your employees aware that crime and shrinkage has an impact on them all, directly or indirectly. You could potentially offer an incentive to those that ‘apprehend’ shoplifters.
  • A well-packed store can also assist in preventing shoplifting. If your shelves are neat and tidy, when something goes missing its instantly apparent. Whereas if your shelves are a mess no one could notice that anything is amiss until much later.

What is your policy for shoplifting?

Consider establishing a store policy for shoplifting. This will help guide your staff in identifying a potential shoplifter and the steps to take to handle the situation. Your policy could include procedures on contacting the relevant authorities and whether they should intervene or wait for the authorities to arrive.

Consider the following when drawing up your shoplifting policy and procedure:

  • How should a staff member approach a customer you suspect?
  • How do you ‘confront’ the suspect?
  • Who do you call or contact?
  • What documentation do you need?

It may be useful to inform and roleplay the proper procedures with your employees to ensure they are adequately prepared for the potential situation.





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