Preventing Shoplifting in Your Small Business

Shoplifting can occur in any retail business. Training staff members accordingly, purchasing the necessary equipment and strategically organizing your items all prevent shoplifters from stealing products. This article covers the importance of shoplifting prevention, ways to identify a shoplifter and preventative measures to take.


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Why is preventing shoplifting important?

Shoplifting is a significant contributor to retail inventory shrinkage. Each item a shoplifter steals is a decrease in your overall profit. Losing a significant amount of products can result in getting rid of some employees or pricing your remaining items higher to make up for the profit decrease. Preventing shoplifters from stealing keeps your inventory strong.  

Related: How to Hire a Security Guard


Ways to identify a shoplifter

Knowing the habits and mannerisms of shoplifters keeps you alert and ready to stop it from occurring. Common signs of a shoplifter may include:

  • Watching employees for a significant length of time
  • Wearing large coats or sweatshirts
  • Constantly looking at items and putting them back down
  • Moving opposite directions of employees 
  • Going into dressing rooms with several people 
  • Bringing many items into the dressing room 
  • Knocking down items or causing scenes to distract employees 
  • Shopping only at busy times like opening, closing or shift changes 

Related: How to Write a Security Guard Job Description


Preventative measures to avoid shoplifting 

Taking preventative measures to keep shoplifters away or make it more difficult to steal can reduce their success rate. Some preventative measures to follow to avoid shoplifting include: 


Training staff members to identify shoplifting 

Pay attention to the actions of customers. Many act suspicious by entering and leaving your store regularly without purchasing anything or regularly watching the cashier or other employees. Meet with your employees to inform them of the common signs of a shoplifter. Ask them to pay attention to customers, as most try to steal when they’re not looking. Simple gestures like asking customers if they need help shows they’re watching, which often reduces shoplifting. 

Train your employees to contact a manager if they see shoplifting. The manager should then contact the police before searching or questioning the employee further.


Organizing your store’s items 

Unorganized items in a store are easy for customers to take. Carefully place merchandise in designated areas and take note of where everything is located to identify when something’s missing. 


Maintaining strong relationships with customers and employees

When customers and employees trust you, they’re willing to share suspicious activity. Use strong customer service skills to build relationships with customers. Respect for you and your establishment leads them to tell you when someone is stealing your items. Making employees feel valued and appreciated typically keeps them from stealing products. It also motivates them to speak up when they notice customers or employees shoplifting. 


Putting smaller items in difficult to reach spots

Smaller items are easier to steal since they can easily fit in pockets. Put these items in hard to reach areas like on a high shelf or next to the cashier by the register. Place more expensive products in a locked container. 


Setting up mirrors around the store 

Newer businesses can have a more challenging time hiring more employees or installing security systems. Mirrors help you watch customers at all times, especially in corners. Set them up and test them with employees so everyone remembers where they are and regularly checks them. 


Hanging theft prevention signs 

Purchase or make signs warning shoplifters of the disciplinary action you’ll take after catching them. Mention fines they’ll pay or that you’ll call the police if they’re caught. Knowing your store punishes them for stealing keeps most shoplifters from taking items. Display signs from more valuable items to ensure their safety. 


Regularly taking inventory 

Taking consistent inventory of your items boosts awareness of inventory shrinkage. Knowing which items are regularly missing helps you understand which sections to boost surveillance and security measures. Develop an effective point of sales system to track inventory by department and category and to track your costs and profit margins. 


Installing security cameras

Place security cameras in your store if the budget allows, since cameras watch employees and customers when you’re too busy. If you spot items missing when taking inventory, check your security camera to help catch the person taking items. Report them and their features to the police or look for them entering the store again. Most shoplifters know their chances of getting caught increase when seeing security cameras, which makes them hesitant to steal. 


Being strict with returns and receipts 

Shoplifters also steal by taking items and claiming to return them for a refund. Create a return policy and encourage your employees to stick to it. Tell employees they need a receipt to return items. If a significant portion of your inventory goes missing, instruct employees to stand by the door to check customers’ items and receipts before leaving.


Placing the registers near the exit 

Registers next to the door help you easily see what’s happening in your store. Greet customers who walk in and watch for customers who may be carrying stolen items in their pockets. Knowing they’re being watched usually prevents shoplifters from taking anything. Always have yourself or a trusted employee stay at the registers to keep people from taking money out of them when you’re not looking.


Locking up large items 

Create a store policy that bans customers from entering with large items like bags, backpacks or big purses. Install lockers and offer to store customers’ items to keep them from sneaking merchandise in them. 


Roles to help stop shoplifting

In addition to hiring extra sales attendants to monitor customers, there are roles for employees who can ensure your inventory is stocked and shoplifters aren’t stealing. These roles include:

  • Security guardPlace one near the door to greet customers. This shows customers that they’re being watched and will receive disciplinary action if they steal anything. Security guards can also monitor the cameras.
  • Sales manager: Hire them to watch over the cash registers and train employees on identifying shoplifters.
  • Retail inventory specialist: Have them regularly organize inventory, check items and report on what’s missing.
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