What a Shoplifter Is Really Thinking

Shoplifter Shoplifting and theft

Have you ever wondered what a shoplifter is truly thinking?

According to the latest retail theft statistics, the 2015 National Retail Security Survey reported shoplifting accounted for nearly 38 percent of the reported shrink last year — by far the greatest contributing factor to retail loss in the survey.

But shoplifting is not a new problem. In 2002, for instance, retailers estimated that 200 million shoplifting incidents were taking place each year, resulting in losses of nearly $30 million per day. At that time, the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention performed a landmark survey to investigate, from the point of view of 20,926 adult and juvenile shoplifters, the magnitude and frequency of their thefts, how they viewed security measures, and how retailers could prevent repeat offenses.

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Here are the top six takeaways from that pioneering survey into the minds of shoplifters:

• Almost three-quarters of both adult and juvenile shoplifters admit that they did not plan to steal. Rather, the decision to shoplift occurred on impulse.

• More than half of adult shoplifters said they began shoplifting as juveniles.

• Nearly 27 percent of nonprofessional shoplifters (those who shoplift “to resolve personal conflict,” rather than for resale and profit) admit to being repeat offenders.

• A substantial majority (80 percent) of both adult and juvenile shoplifters said they did not consider the possibility of being caught or they were willing to take the risk “because they got away with it so many times before.”

• Among those shoplifters who are repeat offenders, more than 90 percent will return to the same store versus committing retail theft in another store.

• Shoplifters are also customers: 60 percent of high-risk shoplifters reported that they also shop in the store where they were caught shoplifting (approximately 35 times a year, on average).

What insights can be gathered from these statistics? Do shoplifters’ impulsive decisions to steal means that a store’s security implementations could be ineffective, or does the fact that most shoplifters start stealing in their youth mean that more early education and intervention measures are needed? What does it mean that most shoplifters are also customers?

Whatever retailers decide to do in order to combat shoplifting losses, it behooves them to stay informed about what’s going on inside a shoplifter’s mind.

This post was adapted from What Shoplifters Say About Stopping Shoplifting.”

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