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  How to spot a shoplifter and prevent theft!  

   By :  Ravinder
    Jun 16, 2017    Views: 1064
Shoplifting continues to be a challenge for retailers.  According to the National Retail Federation Security Survey inventory shrink averaged 1.38 percent of retail sales.  External theft or shoplifting accounted for a significant portion of this with an average loss of $377 per incident.  
 
All retailers are affected by this kind of theft and understand that it’s just one of the frustrating parts of running the business.  With good customer service, store design, and the use of loss prevention technologies you can significantly reduce this problem.
 
Having said that it is an excellent idea to train staff to recognise suspicious behaviour and spot a shoplifter in real time.  Depending on the type of thief some are more easily identified than others.  For example professionals or organized criminals make a career out of stealing and can be difficult to detect.  While amateurs may not be as smooth they could be easier to catch in the act.
 
Not all shoplifters fit the stereotypical look of a “street person” or “gang member”.  It’s the behaviours that are the biggest telltale signs and not so much about how they’re dressed. For a comedic view of the types of shoplifters take a look at this video:
 
 
Identifying suspicious behaviour or incidents
 
For over 29 years Halo Metrics has worked with Loss Prevention professionals across Canada to prevent theft. Along the way the LP community has provided great insights and have pointed out several suspicious behaviours and clues to watch out for.  Here are some tips to note:
  • Be aware when an individual is dressed inconsistently with the weather ie: large over coat in the summer.
  • A person who is paying more attention to the employees rather than the merchandise should be considered suspicious.
  • “Shoppers” coming in with large duffle bags or worn out, wrinkled bags from other retailers.
  • Be cautious when a shopper asks the employee to check the back room for certain models or having them write down model numbers under the guise they want to compare item online. This distracts the employee for their purpose.
  • An uptick in false alarms from security products. Thieves will watch to see how staff react or don’t react.  
  • Someone refusing customer service.
  • Person lingering or staying in an area in the store where employee visibility is limited ie: corners, behind pillars.
  • Check merchandise to make sure other merchandise is not hidden inside especially for fitting room items or other things with storage compartments.
  • Shelves or displays purposely disorganized to hide “holes” should be a flag.
  • Be careful when a group of three or more than either swarming the employee or distracting them while the others steal.
  • When you notice the same individual in the store but they never make a purchase.
Some typical methods used for stealing include:
 
1. Distracting the employee.
2. Grab and run
3. Concealing product in their pockets, underneath clothing, in bags, purses and strollers.
4. Working in groups
5. Waiting for peak selling times when the employees are busy helping other customers.
6. Targeting new employees or employees working alone. 
 
Although all theft negatively impacts the profitability and bottom line of the business, the professional shoplifter and organized retail crime groups have the biggest negative impact.  This is due to the large quantities they steal that are often higher ticket items as they have more value when re-sold on the street.  If they were successful, they will continue to target that location or other stores in the chain.  One incident can result in several thousands of dollars in losses. Ultimately, the losses will impact the price the consumer pays, product not being available for the consumer to purchase and possibly the future growth of the company.
 
How should you approach a suspected shoplifter to deter or prevent a theft?
 
It is absolutely crucial for the organization to have a theft awareness program in place that includes policies and procedures that address shoplifting.  
 
The first line of defence is to make eye contact and greet everyone that enters the store.
 
When you SUSPECT that a customer may steal, the employee should attempt to provide extra customer service to the individual.  Open ended questions such as “Are you finding everything ok?” or “Do you need any help?” will only result in the individual refusing service.  Employees need to engage the individual by introducing a new product, asking questions about what they are specifically looking for or find a “conversation piece” about the customer ie: “I love your shoes, I used to have a pair that looked identical” or “Wow! For a second there I thought you were my uncle….you look JUST like him!”  This tells the suspect he would easily be identified.
 
When you have WITNESSED the SELECTION and CONCEALMENT, safety comes first!!  Do not confront or accuse the shoplifter or ask them to empty out their pockets/bag etc.  Most importantly, DO NOT search them.  If you saw the theft, notify other employees or your Manager and advise them of the incident.  At this point, you could approach the suspect and begin a conversation such as “I see you’ve selected the brown ‘xxxx’,  “Let me show you something similar that you may like…”,  “I see you’ve selected ‘xxxxx’….can I show you where the register is or start a fitting room for you?”.  Then, give the shoplifter a little bit of space to be able to “ditch” the product and if possible, position yourself close to the entrance.
 
For apparel retailer how can fitting rooms create challenges for loss prevention?
 
The key component that shoplifter looks for is PRIVACY.  The fitting room offers the suspect a place to conceal the merchandise and remove the security tags.  The fitting room is the most vulnerable area of the store unless a stringent fitting room policy is in place.  The other challenge is keeping the rooms free of merchandise.  Even with a policy is in place, if a customer enters a fitting room and there is other merchandise left behind, they now have the opportunity to steal even more.  If a fitting room has price tags and security tags that have been removed and not collected by the employee, it tells customers it’s easy to steal from this retailer.
 
Customer service, employee awareness, the use of loss prevention technologies and the cleanliness of the store are just some of ways to prevent theft. Alternate measures are to have a code word with Mall Security that alerts them (and not the shoplifter) that you need assistance with a walk through to help deter the theft or possibility of one.  
 
For more information about loss prevention strategies to prevent theft contact Halo Metrics Inc.
 

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