With all the advances in security measures, FBI Crime Index statistics show shoplifting offenses were up 13.3 percent in 1999 compared to 15 years ago. This increase is likely understated because the FBI statistics represent only cases reported to law enforcement. In recent years, retailers have reduced the number of cases reported to the police because of increased use of civil demand in lieu of prosecution. In addition, the growth of internal theft in retail has shifted focus away from shoplifting.
With an estimated 200 million shoplifting incidents occurring each year, retailers are
experiencing approximately 550,000 shoplifting incidents each day, resulting in losses totaling almost $30 million per day.
Over the past two years, two landmark surveys have revealed many of the attitudes and activities of shoplifters, including potential vulnerabilities, which can helpretailers find other effective ways to bring shoplifting losses down.
The recently released 2002 Shoplifters Survey conducted by Shoplifters Alternative (SA) combines the responses of 20,926 adult and juvenile nonprofessional shoplifters. Analysis of the results reveals the frequency and magnitude of their thefts, how shoplifters view store security measures, their potential to become dishonest retail employees, their view of the best ways to prevent repeat offenses, and how to get them to stop, rather than trying to stop them.
Since almost three-quarters of both adult and juvenile shoplifters say they did not plan to steal, shoplifting is largely an impulsive reaction and not a premeditated act.
With all the money being spent by retailers on security measures, it is discouraging to learn that a large percentage of shoplifters did not know whether the store had good or bad security when they decided to steal. Apparently, their decision was based on their perception of security and/or their prior experience of not getting caught.
With 59 percent of adults and 86 percent of juveniles having knowledge of others who shoplift, this suggests that shoplifting may be becoming moreprevalent, more accepted, less shameful, and less fearful, especially among young people.
With more than half of adults saying they started shoplifting as juveniles, the need for education and early intervention programs for juveniles is apparent.
Today, 50 percent more juveniles (46 vs. 31 percent) fail to receive guidance
from their parents about why shoplifting is wrong…a disturbing trend for retailers. With the proliferation of problems today, including drugs, AIDS, violence against children, and cyber sex, parental teaching about shoplifting is given less attention, thereby removing an important deterrent to shoplifting among juveniles and subtly reinforcing the idea that shoplifting is “no big deal.”
If 39 percent of apprehended shoplifters will work in retail, that’s a real problem for retailers. The good news is that 89 percent of adults and 87 percent of juveniles said they were less likely to steal from their retail employer after having completed a shoplifter education program following their apprehension ina store. Therefore, it follows that the education of apprehended shoplifters will also help reduce future employee theft.
Focusing on the Nonprofessional Habitual Shoplifter
The Shoplifters Survey made the distinction between the different types of shoplifters as a focus for retailers. Professional shoplifters steal for resale and profit. This segment accounts for $1 billion in shrinkage losses. Nonprofessional shoplifters steal to resolve personal conflict. This group represents a staggering $9 billion in retail losses.
The sheer magnitude of the shrinkage losses from nonprofessional shoplifters makes that group the primary target of retailers. However, among nonprofessional hoplifters thereare two important groups to consider. Casual shoplifters represent a large percent of people who steal a little. Habitualshoplifters represent a small percent of people who steal a lot.
Theft admissions by nonprofessional shoplifters reveal that 27 percent of the shoplifters are habitual repeat offenders who steal on a daily or weekly basis. When you do the math, these shoplifters cause about 90 percent of the nonprofessional losses and approximately 85 percent of total shoplifting losses. This follows the 80-20 rule, where typically 80 percent of any problem is caused by only 20 percent of the population. Therefore, the challenge for retailers is in reducing the frequency of theft by the same person, and, once caught, keeping that person from reverting back to shoplifting.
The 2002 Shoplifters Survey summarized and analyzed the theft admissions from 1,291 shoplifters who admitted shoplifting on a daily or weekly basis, or who were classified as a “high risk” based on the results of a Psychological Profile Analysis and Risk Assessment evaluation conducted as a part of their participation in a Shoplifters Alternative educational rehabilitation program. The responses of this high-risk group are highlighted below.
At what age did they first start shoplifting?
A far greater percentage (51 percent) of high-risk shoplifters started shoplifting at age 16 or less compared to low-risk shoplifters (15 percent). This implies that the earlier a person starts shoplifting, the more likely it is they will become a habitual offender. Shoplifting has always been a gateway crime for individuals. This finding reinforces the need for early intervention among juveniles to reduce current and future retail thefts.
With new and more sophisticated security devices, what made these habitual shoplifters think they wouldn’t get caught?
A large majority (80 percent) of both adults and juveniles said they didn’t think about getting caught or were willing to take the risk because they got away with it so many times before. One obvious conclusion is that if retailers back off from surveillance and apprehension, shoplifters will be even more encouraged totake the risk.
Security devices appear to be only 42 percent effective for adults and 36 percent effective for juveniles in deterring the nonprofessional habitual shoplifter. Among the majority of offenders who will continue to shoplift, 93 percent of adults and 90 percent of juveniles will do so in the same store versus going to another store.
If approximately 40 percent of the habitual shoplifters who were previously apprehended say that they later returned to the same store to shoplift again, that’s a serious problem for retailers. Therefore, at the time of apprehension, retailers may need to take advantage of this rare opportunity to be more proactive in preventing future thefts. Because of the fear and embarrassment following apprehension, this is the time when shoplifters are most receptive to changing their behavior. Proactive actions by retailers could include criminal prosecution, the offer of an educational program, or a civil demand with a referral to professional treatment.
Habitual adult shoplifters perceive a comprehensive educational program of equal value to prosecution in helping them to stop themselves from shoplifting again. Juveniles cite such a program as of more value than prosecution in helping them to stop themselves from shoplifting again. This can have great significance for retailers who prefer not to prosecute in every case, but who want to take other meaningful action to help ensure that when they have apprehended a shoplifter, theyhave caught him for the last time.
Are shoplifters also paying customers?
Sixty percent of high-risk shoplifters say they shop in the store where they were caught shoplifting an average of 35 times per year. The average amount spent annually is $1,230 for adults and $927 for juveniles.
The fact that shoplifters are also customers who represent a significant amount of sales each year may be overlooked by retailers. Instead of only issuing a criminal trespass warning, retailers may want to consider offering a rehabilitation program that could result in reinstatement of their shopping privileges in order to recapture lost sales.
Are shoplifters also paying customers?
Despite all the advances in security measures, shoplifting remains a significant problem for retailers. With approximately 27 percent of shoplifters responsible for 85 percent of shoplifting losses, current loss prevention strategies need to be directed toward stopping the habitual repeat offender.
Because current security measures appear to be less than 50 percent effective in stopping the repeat offender, retailers cannot rely on traditional security measures alone to deter future shoplifting. And because the habitual shoplifter cannot easily be identified upon apprehension, all apprehended shoplifters should be considered potential habitual offenders.
To combat shoplifting losses, retailers must actively pursue prosecution and/or education as the most effective response to preventing future thefts. And because the same shoplifter steals from many different stores, when one shoplifter stops stealing, it reduces shrinkage for many retailers. Therefore, the more retailers who target the habitual offender, the faster shrinkage will decline nationwide.