For many years, the stereotype of the amateur shoplifter has been a juvenile shoplifting offender pilfering candy, makeup, and other minor items from retail establishments seeking a deep discount or a cheap thrill at the expense of a neighborhood store or market.
Those of us in loss prevention have long preached that the deeper concerns of the retail theft epidemic that results in tens of billions of dollars in losses each year has little to do with a juvenile shoplifting a candy bar, and more to do with the complex challenges facing the retail community. We discuss the broad scope of criminal activity from the growing concern of organized retail crime, the ongoing reach of employee theft and fraud, credit card issues, robberies, burglaries, the frustrations of paperwork errors, the complexity of data breaches and e-commerce incidents, and a host of other concerns that contribute to the retail shrink problems faced by businesses across the globe.
But finding the heart of any problem is often revealed by getting back to the basics. Many of our loss prevention training and awareness programs begin with a conversation emphasizing that a thief can look like anyone—that we can’t rely on stereotypes and prejudices when attempting to identify a potential shoplifter in our stores. These lessons remain the foundation of many of our internal training programs when addressing both our loss prevention teams and our store employees.
By the same respect, putting this message in perspective and providing real-world examples will often hold the greatest significance for those that deal with customers on a day-to-day basis.
In recent years, there has been a growing retail trend involving senior citizens taking part in shoplifting events. In a tight economy where many are fighting to make ends meet there will always be those that make careless and foolish decisions. Unfortunately, these poor decisions aren’t bound by a particular demographic or age group, which is demonstrated by daily stories dotting the digital horizon. Claiming to supplement limited incomes, seniors are stealing everything from food and clothing to personal essentials and over-the-counter medications. One recent news story tells of “silver-haired women in their sixties and seventies” threatening the livelihood of a business through the daily theft of tabloid magazines from the store.
Whether this is a new trend or an ongoing problem that is just now being brought into the light, it emphasizes the need to broaden our perspective regarding one of the basic battles facing the retail community.
Use Your Observation Skills
The power of observation is important in everything that we do; and a critical aspect of our continuing growth. When it comes to identifying a potential shoplifter it is important that we recognize the value of observation and make every effort to cultivate these skills to the fullest extent possible. Recognize the traits that draw a particular individual to your attention. You can then draw upon the signs that further focus your attention, building the foundation for the decisions that follow. Rather than relying on stereotypes, focus on four basic criteria:
- Behaviors involve the actions, reactions and manner of conduct you observe that may point to potential theft and other criminal activity.
- Indicators are pieces of information that reflect the intention or capability to follow a particular course of action. A theft indicator would be something visible or relevant that gives us grounds to believe that a theft or potential theft incident may take place.
- Means involves the instruments by which an act can be accomplished or an end achieved. This would include the resources and tools that support the ability to steal.
- Opportunity would be the favorable or advantageous circumstances and the related prospects that support the potential or capability to commit dishonest acts.
These are the elements that set the stage for shoplifting incidents and other dishonest acts–and the only acceptable criteria for determining a potential shoplifter.
Naturally, not every theft incident in the store will involve a senior citizen pilfering magazines any more than it might entail a juvenile shoplifting candy bars. The problems involving retail theft go much deeper than these concerns in the stores. However, every loss prevention professional and retail employee must be aware of all of the different possibilities that they may encounter, the potential individuals that might be involved, and the risks they may face. Every day each and every one of us grows older. That doesn’t exclude shoplifters.
This article was updated December 8, 2016.