Thieves don't discriminate. SMEs are particularly at risks of retail theft as some consider small businesses easy targets. This is because they don't have the resources or policy structures large retailers do. Adopting preventative methods will limit the number of shoplifting incidents in your store.
Recognise a thief and know their methods
There is no definitive way to spot a shoplifter. Thieves come in all shapes and sizes so identifying them can be difficult. Amateur shoplifters may display nervous behaviours and attempt to avoid interaction with employees, while shoplifters working in pairs or groups will employ elaborate distraction techniques, engaging with staff members to distract from their accomplice committing the theft.
Concealment is the most common method of theft among shoplifters, so smaller items are particularly at risk. Be wary of people with large coats and bags in hot weather. Other methods include taking multiple items to the changing room, distracting staff or using the private space to conceal goods. Swapping price tags and pursuing fake refunds are also popular shoplifting methods.
Implement a policy and train staff
Even if your staff see a theft take place they won’t know how to deal with it unless you have a clear shoplifting policy in place. To design your policy you need to assess the following points;
- What’s your goal? Do you intend to prosecute or get the merchandise back?
- Do you have a zero tolerance policy to shoplifting? or will you only look to prosecute if the cost of their theft exceeds a certain amount? Will the culprit's age bear any effect on your decision to prosecute, such as minors under 18 or seniors over 65?
- How will you confront or restrain a shoplifter?
- How will you proceed if the shoplifter shows remorse or offers to pay for the goods?
These are ethical questions reserved for retail owners. Bare in mind your reputation will precede you. Organisations considered a soft touch by thieves may become a target. If word gets around the police will be called with no exceptions, shoplifters may think again. Ensuring staff are well versed in your shoplifting policy empowers them to confidently deal with the situation if/when it occurs.
Optimise store layout
Independent retailers are likely to limited on space and finance so drastically changing the store layout may not be an option. However optimising the space can make it less thief friendly. Having the pay point by the door ensures thieves will have to walk past you before they leave which allows you to observe their behaviour and acts as a deterrent.
Tall narrow shelving provides cover for thieves looking to conceal stolen goods. If use of low-level shelving is not viable, use convex mirrors to increase visibility in these areas. Grouping high-value items together, preferably in a section of the store with one entry and exit route can reduce the opportunity for theft when a staff member is assigned to observe the area.
Let them know your watching
Just like the use of convex mirrors, CCTV will discourage potential shoplifters from committing theft. CCTV acts as both deterrent and can evidence the crime should it be escalated to the authorities. CCTV systems can be costly but would prove a valuable investment if you seek to prosecute. If it’s totally beyond your budget, a sign declaring you have CCTV can be just as effective.
Visual cues are a cost effective method for deterring shoplifters. The mere suggestion they are being watched can be enough to dissuade amateurs who often act on impulse and opportunity. Ensure the wording fits your brand and is not accusatory -the goal of loss prevention signage is to deter thieves, not intimidate legitimate customers. Place signs up high in corners, where thieves will be most likely checking for security cameras.
Adopt a customer service strategy
Again, independent retailers may have less resource available to them, often employing a smaller staff. It may be difficult to have enough people on the shop floor at peak times when shoplifters are most likely to strike. Having a staff member to meet and greet at the door allows you to extend a warm welcome to genuine customers, but also shows would be shoplifters you’re aware of their presence.
Approaching customers allows staff to build rapport with customers and enquire if they need any assistance. This can also act as a deterrent for shoplifters who won’t risk being caught if they feel they are being watched.
Practice good inventory management
Without knowing what stock you have, you won’t know what’s being stolen, how it’s affecting your bottom line or even if you’ve got a problem. EPOS takes the pain out of stock management and the reports generated can be reconciled with previous reports and sales data. Any discrepancies can alert you to a weak link in your loss prevention strategy and protect you against employee theft which accounts for 43% of all retail theft.