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6 Ways to Combat Retail Theft in Your Store


Whether you call it shrink, theft, or shoplifting, there’s no question that stolen product impacts a retailer’s bottom line. According to the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention, there are approximately 27 million shoplifters in our nation today — that’s 1 in 11 Americans — with more than 10 million people having been caught shoplifting in the last five years. So how can retail businesses combat the frustrating and expensive problem of retail theft?

As a small business owner, midsize business owner, or corporate entity, there are various ways in which you can aim to combat theft — especially since those who steal don’t limit themselves to one type of business, small or large. Preparing to handle retail theft before it happens is key, and various layers of protection for your business are necessary. To help identify what may make the most sense for you, consider the following loss prevention strategies:

Check Out Your Checkout

Did you know that many shoplifters buy and steal merchandise in the same visit? The National Association for Shoplifting Prevention has found that shoplifters commonly steal during a store visit in which they also make a purchase. This strategy is aimed to distract store employees from their theft and as a result, make stealing even easier.

To help avoid overlooking this in your own store environment, make it habit among all employees to open lids, bags, or anything else that may close that they are purchasing, as well as look under all items in their cart or bag. Check out customers after they have checked out already, a strategy common at Costco, for example, where employees match receipts to items in shopping carts.

Considering your store size and employee head count, vary your check out procedure to best accommodate your staff availability — but at the very least, encourage a thorough review of customers and the bags, coats, and other accessories they may be wearing to help avoid stealing. Of course, you can’t open purses or insist customers unzip their coats to see what they may have stashed away, but you can be more vigilant than you already are.

Analyze Your Store Risks

As a store owner or manager, it’s likely that no one knows your store better than you — unless that someone wants to steal from you. Put yourself in the shoes of a thief and walk around your store, identifying the potential risk zones for shoplifting. Consider your overall store layout, merchandising, and inventory. Do you feel confident your store is risk free, or are there shoplifting risks in your store?

Like everyone else, the reality is you cannot 100% guarantee you won’t be the victim of retail theft, but you can consider your risks and aim to strengthen them. It’s important to keep your inventory organized and your team aware of merchandising standards that may include replacing items once they are sold on store shelves. As the folks at Shopify recently suggested, “if your store is messy, disorganized, or a maze to get through, it can be harder to notice that you’ve been ‘gotten’ until it’s too late.”

A final thought? Channel your inner Sherlock Holmes and challenge your employees, friends, and even family to do the same to gain multiple perspectives on risk zones in your store.

Re-Merchandise Based on Risk Potential

Not all risks come with reward, so rather than let your risk zones become a problem, consider how re-merchandising your store can help. Areas that are infrequently monitored by employees or have limited view from the checkout area are often the most vulnerable when it comes to theft.

Due to this, consider what products you place in these areas and how other products — such as larger items that may not be easily removed — may be more ideal in these places. Other areas that may bring risk include corners, areas behind shelving, displays located directly by the exit door, and changing rooms.

Small products that are easy to pocket or stuff into bags or purses are typically the most vulnerable items when it comes to shoplifting. Examples include jewelry, decorative items, candies, lip balms, and other small items. Placing these vulnerable objects in high risk areas is a bad combination that may tempt potential shoplifters, so consider how a shift in merchandising can help combat this.

Finally, consider placing high-priced inventory — whether it’s diamond earrings, an expensive scarf, or whatever your priciest item may be — in glass casing or on shelves that demand employee engagement in order for customers to touch them.

Design Your Store Layout With Retail Theft in Mind

When designing a store layout, merchants often consider displays, office space, changing rooms, curb and window appeal, storage and more. Too often, however, theft is not a priority in this design process. To help create an anti-theft strategy for your store, begin by creating a design layout that caters to theft prevention. Retail store layouts that do this often distract shoplifters, and as a result, avoid having to deal with theft as often as others do.

Some things to consider when designing your layout include placing the checkout area of your store between the merchandise and the exit. This creates a barrier between your inventory, your staff and would-be thieves. Combined with employees trained to communicate with all store visitors — customers and thieves alike — someone who is looking to steal will be less likely to do so because of this store layout.

Additionally, aim to create a space that has an openness about it that allows employees to view store visitors nearly all the time. Less visible places attract shoplifters, but through store design you should aim to avoid this whenever possible. You should also make any changing rooms only accessible with employee engagement, decreasing the chance of someone using this space as a place to steal inventory.

Pretend You Have More Security Than You Do

Let’s face it — security cameras, tags, and even security guards are all great ways to distract shoplifters. But if you are like many merchants, you can’t afford all of these for your store. What you can do, however, is take advantage of some of these tactics without breaking the bank.

One way to do this is to install a dummy security camera that can deter amateur shoplifters targeting indie stores. You can even buy recycled electronic security tags and install them on high-value products to help scare potential thieves away. Of course, the real deal is always better but if that is not in your budget, consider how you can still give that perception to customers that it is.

Keep an Eye on Employees

The US Chamber of Commerce reports that 75% of employees will steal from their employers within their professional lifetime, which means that you are likely at risk for being among those employers who may be stolen from. Keeping this in mind, be sure that you and your team are the first line of defense against shoplifters — including those who may work for you.

Communicate your concerns to your employees about shoplifting in general, then make sure they are aware that you are aware of inventory, dollars, and anything else that is at risk for being stolen. Teach them to keep their eyes open for suspicious characters and vulnerable items both from an internal and external perspective, then be sure they know the door is open for them to share any concerns they may have.

Communication is key here, which is the basis of any healthy relationship — including those between managers and employees.

In Conclusion

When it comes to retail theft, you need to be clear with potential thieves what you will do should they be caught. Having clear messages within your store space can help deliver this message, with some examples including:

  • “Shoplifters will be prosecuted.”
  • “Please ask an employee for access to the dressing room.”
  • “Employees Only.”
  • “Smile! You’re on camera.”

Each sign communicates that your store is positioned to prosecute shoplifters while also firmly stating that your store space is a secure environment for your customers, employees, and your items.

Creating a theft prevention plan can be daunting, but the extra efforts will cost you far less than dealing with stolen inventory and thieves later. So with no time to waste, what are you doing today to help prevent theft in your store tomorrow? Using the above strategies, begin protecting your business from the millions of shoplifters roaming in and out of retail stores today.


This column is written by Retail Minded Founder and Publisher Nicole Leinbach Reyhle for Credibly (@retailminded

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