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How to protect your business from shoplifters

Wrights GPX Shoplifting Infographic

What is the problem?

Shoplifting costs the retail sector hundreds of millions of pounds in lost revenue each year. The effects of this can range from increasing the costs of goods for the customer to putting stores out of business completely. Shoplifting is a hard nut to crack and is not something that will be eliminated in the near future. There are, however, a wide range of measures that even small businesses on a tight budget can take to significantly reduce the problem. Have a look at our infographic for more stats about shoplifting and read our guide below to find out what can be done to protect your business.

What do shoplifters look for?

The first step towards reducing shoplifting is to understand what shoplifters look for, so you will know if your business is an easy target. We spoke to PS Andy Grapsas of the Surrey Police, which had one of the most improved shoplifting rates between 2013 and 2014. He told us what thieves look for when looking for a target:

-     Shops with high shelving that obscures the shopkeepers’ view

-     High value products within close proximity to entrances and exits

-     Lack of CCTV or security staff

-     Lack of visible staff or shopkeepers

-     No security barriers or tags

-     Poor lighting

-     Busy stores or a poor staff to customer ratio

-     Blind spots that can’t be overseen by staff from a distance

What do shoplifters look like?

There’s no one-size-fits-all look for a shoplifter, but depending on the techniques they use to steal from your shop, you need to need to know the red flags suggested by PS Grapsas:

-     Inappropriate clothing like long coats in warmer weather are perfect for concealing stolen goods

-     Carrying shopping bags from other shops

-     Entering your store in pairs and then splitting up once inside

-     Loitering in high value property aisles

-     Carrying large, empty bags into the shop that they may then fill with stolen items

What should you do to reduce the problem?

PS Grapsas advised that some stores are more vulnerable to the financial impact of shoplifting than others. Businesses need to weigh up the cost of shoplifting versus the cost of prevention measures, and also the impact on sales. For example, some large shops keep displays of higher value goods near the door to attract customers in and boost sales. Smaller shops might want to keep high value products further away from the door when they can’t easily absorb the cost of shoplifting.

The two main areas to consider when reducing shoplifting rates in your business are the design and layout of the store and your staff. Below is a range of ideas to suit all budgets to tackle the problem.

Store design and layout

-     Keep high value products away from entrances and exits

-     Install CCTV or hire a security guard. A cheaper option can be to give the impression of having CCTV, even if you don’t.

-     Make sure your premises are well lit

-     Attach security tags to all items. A cheaper option is to forgo the security barriers and just attach tags to items. They may not work, but still may put off potential thieves

-     Make sure you have good vantage points for staff and add mirrors for full visibility into any areas that can’t be seen

-     Put items that are easy to shoplift close to the checkout where you can keep a close eye on them

-     Maintain a good line of sight to sections of your store where desirable items are displayed

-     Use packaging that is hard to conceal

-     Put up signs stating your policy about prosecuting shoplifters

-     Alternating clothing hanger directions makes grabbing a large amount of clothing and running away much more difficult

-     Lock high-value items in security cabinets and ensure access to the contents is supervised

Staff training

-     Ensure all staff receive proper training about how to look for shoplifters and what to do if they see someone stealing

-     Greet customers as they enter the store. Giving attentive customer service

will put off thieves as they don’t have the privacy needed to conceal items

-     Instead of staying at the tills, get staff to regularly wander around the shop floor, tidying, interacting with customers and watching what’s happening

-     Ensure changing rooms are manned at all times and that staff are careful to count the number of items taken in and out, not just the number of hangers they see

Should you prosecute shoplifters?

Yes. Always. Many shoplifters go unprosecuted and continue to reoffend, costing your own and other businesses even more money. Sometimes a prosecution can be enough of an unpleasant consequence as to stop someone stealing again.

How is shoplifting investigated?

PS Grapsas told us that shoplifting cases are investigated by checking CCTV to find footage of the incident taking place. Descriptions of the suspects are also taken and their modus operandi (MO) will be looked at. The MO can sometimes point towards particular offenders who may be prevalent in that area. Some will work in pairs, use distraction techniques, steal charity boxes, etc. so consistent use of those techniques can help police to identify who has been involved.

The take home message

Shoplifting won’t be eliminated, but there are many ways to significantly reduce the issue, even on a budget. The key is to weigh up the cost of shoplifting versus the cost of any preventative measures you take. Your staff can make the biggest difference to your shoplifting rates, so providing proper training and management should be the top priority. Finally, when the worst does happen, always prosecute as it may well turn the offender’s behaviour around and help to protect your business in the long- term.