The Continuing Battle of Fitting Room Theft in a World of Increasing Privacy Concerns

Nine tactics retailers can use to deter fitting room theft

Fitting rooms have long been a “safe haven” for shoplifters. But effectively controlling fitting room theft is getting more and more difficult. When I began as a department store shoplifting agent in the early 1970s, it was a common practice for fitting room doors to have louvers allowing some degree of visibility into the room. And yes, we took advantage of that visibility to observe shoplifters stuffing merchandise or concealing it under their own clothing. Our only restriction was male agents in men’s and female agents in women’s.

Even as louvered fitting room doors went the way of the dinosaur, stores were often able to staff fitting room areas with checkers to monitor clothing quantities taken in and out. Yes, clever thieves had numerous methods to fool the checkers, but the system worked reasonably well. The practice is still in use today in various forms, but labor and staffing pressures have made it more and more difficult to fund.

Measuring Fitting Room Theft
Total retail shrink now tops $50 billion. The National Retail Federation (NRF) estimates that approximately $18 of that is due to shoplifting. And, NRF reports that the average shoplift incident has doubled over time, now reaching almost $560. It’s true that much of the dramatically increasing shrink numbers are driven by cyber crime and ORC, but amateur shoplifting is still a huge problem. It’s reported that one in 11 Americans shoplift and 1 to 2 percent of customers enter a store with the intent of stealing.

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When it comes to fitting room shoplifting, it’s impossible to accurately gauge the total loss. However, the anonymity provided is still the shoplifter’s best friend. But changing privacy and surveillance laws are making it more and more difficult to combat fitting room thefts.

Cameras have long been used to monitor the flow into and out of fitting room “areas” and have proven effective in helping loss prevention and providing some deterrent to shoplifters. But privacy laws are challenging that method of deterrence. The laws are often confusing but, in general, they have been tightening over time. Thirteen states expressly prohibit the use of any monitoring system in fitting rooms or fitting room areas. Thirty-seven states have laws requiring signage informing customers entering fitting room areas that they are potentially being monitored. Fitting room monitoring of any kind must be done for loss prevention purposes only. It’s generally agreed that “any filming or photography of a person without their knowledge or consent in an area in which they have a reasonable expectation of privacy” is expressly prohibited.

Fitting Room LP Tactics
So, when it comes to preventing fitting room theft, what’s a retailer to do? Consider this partial list of suggested LP tactics:
• Staff with fitting room checkers if budgets allow
• Locate fitting rooms in high-traffic areas
• Design hallways and fitting rooms with smooth surfaces to minimize hiding places for price or EAS tags
• Avoid carpet in fitting rooms that can be pulled up to hide tags
• Maintain or add store EAS even though fitting rooms provide privacy for removing tags
• Doors shouldn’t go all the way to the floor, lessening the feeling of “complete” privacy
• Use bright lighting to reduce the feeling of privacy
• Add cameras or public-view monitors at entrances to fitting room banks if allowed by law
• Place chimes on fitting room doors

The battle continues. The above measures can help deter fitting room theft but are far from perfect. And tightening privacy laws are making things even tougher. But, the best deterrent to any kind of shoplifting is still individual customer attention, eye contact, and superior service. That’s not always possible, but it still works best.

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