Retail Theft Prevention Tips That Save Your Business

Running a successful brick-and-mortar retail store isn’t for the faint-hearted. Small businesses face serious competition from mega-chain stores and share customers with e-commerce platforms. You can bet Walmart has its bases covered to prevent theft and shoplifting incidents.

According to data, retail shrinkage through shoplifting and other factors account for $32 billion in annual losses. This loss stems from petty thieves and kleptomaniacs to organized retail theft.

Use the retail theft and shoplifting prevention tips in this guide to cut losses. Today, we’ll drill you into some proactive measures you can take.

A Clear Definition of Retail Theft

It’s considered retail theft when someone willingly leaves your store without paying for merchandise. This criminal act denies many store owners their rightful profits.

Applicable legal penalties vary with the scope of the crime. For instance, absconding with a pack of gum is a minor theft in most states. However, theft of high-ticket items like electronics or pharmaceuticals is a serious crime.

Retail managers and store owners face a constant battle. On the one hand, you need to protect your goods and bottom line. On the other, you need to reassure shoppers of a safe and friendly experience.

Take proactive steps to prevent theft. These can range from inventory tracking, inspections, and other reporting tools. Add a competent retail security team—and you have a mechanism that ensures safety, profitability, and a friendly shopping experience.

A Thin Line: Difference between Retail Theft and Shoplifting

People often use shoplifting and retail theft interchangeably, but there’s a thin line between the terms because they bear the following distinction:

  • Shoplifting is whereby would-be customers steal goods from a retail store during operational hours.
  • Retail theft covers a wider conspiracy to defraud your business. Such crimes involve the willing participation of customers, workers, and even suppliers in some cases.

Rightly, US law enforcers consider shoplifting and retail theft a crime. Violators can walk away with a slap on the wrist, a fine, or some time in jail—depending on the state law and the cost of the stolen item.

Proactive Steps to Help Prevent Theft in Retail Stores

Retail theft is an eventuality many businesses deal with, sometimes daily. This issue is especially evident for minor retailers that can only make small investments in security.

On the positive side, you can have proper retail security even on a tight budget. All it takes is advanced scenario planning and a few time-proven techniques. These include:

Basic Scenario Planning

Put yourself in a shoplifter’s shoes before investing in manpower or security equipment. Pace along the floors, look at the shelves and think about the items that spark your lust. Then, speculate on goods you can conceal, even if they don’t have a high value.

Think like an opportunist! Survey the security camera placement, take note of the blind corners, and envision where the staff may be stationed.

Now, let us look at a few things you can add to frighten anyone with the mindset you’ve suddenly developed after this little field trip.

Proper Security Camera Placement

CCTV technology is a double-edged sword against retail theft. It gives you a bird’s eye view of all your customers and employees. Security cameras also serve as a visible anti-theft deterrent for all would-be shoplifters.

You can also use the captured video as evidence for cases that end up in court. Security cameras won’t affect your store’s aesthetics since they are elegant. However, there’s also the chance of having blind spots with less-than-optimal coverage.

Strategically placing mirrors and retail security guards in those corners eliminate blind spots for a 360-degree view of your store's layout.

Placing Security Mirrors Strategically

As mentioned, security mirrors can cover the blind spots that cameras miss. Your best bet here is rounded security mirrors that offer wider coverage. With that in place, there’s nowhere for shoplifters to hide when they switch tags or stuff their clothes and bags with the merchandise.

Entrance Alert Systems

Shoplifters are sneaky. It helps if there’s a way to detect their presence whenever they enter your store. Installing a bell or buzzer offers a simple way of informing you of their arrival. Such systems also keep your employees alert and ready to assist customers.

These alerts draw attention to customers when they leave. You can also monitor customers that have been in the store for too long, to corner them if they exit without paying.

Counter Retail Theft Staff Training

You can have the best retail security equipment, but it will only serve the purpose if your employees are prepared and motivated enough to deal with threats. It starts with workshops that teach staff to identify suspected shoplifters. Some of the suspicious customer behaviors include:

  • Nervous and twitchiness
  • Staying in blind spots
  • Entering and exiting your premise too often
  • Avoiding assistance and direct eye contact
  • Bowing away from security cameras
  • Passing around without making a purchase
  • Touching loads of merchandise without adding it to carts

Don't encourage retail staff to be heroes, as trying to apprehend thieves can put their safety at risk. Instead, invite them to offer quality customer care when they spot suspicious behavior. Such training also equips them with the right words to describe to the police investigating a shoplifting incident.

Post “Friendly” Signage

Posting a "Smile, you're on CCTV!" sign informs any would-be bandits that their exploits are recorded for posterity. They should try their lack elsewhere because you take shoplifting seriously, and there’s loads of evidence for the authorities to prosecute them.

Data from the Loss Prevention Research Council reveals that most potential shoplifters don’t try their luck in retail stores with visible warning signs. Moderation is key here since you don’t want to unnerve law-abiding shoppers. It should be enough to deter anyone seeking the thrill of walking out of your store without paying for goods.

Optimize Your Store Layout

An untidy and unnavigable store allows shoplifters to stuff products into their bags or clothes. As a result, they can leave the establishment before you notice. Your store’s layout has a major part in encouraging or deterring a shoplifter’s impulses.

Optimized store layouts make it easier for customers to locate products. It leads to higher sales and reduces the workload on the floor staff. You can also use it as an anti-theft deterrent, as it gives your security team better visibility of the merchandise.

Only the most daring shoplifters and untrustworthy employees can take a chance on a well-organized store that makes it easy to spot missing items.

Position Cash Register Closer to Exit

Most shoplifters want to grab, conceal, and leave with your goods before you notice. Positioning an employee-manned cash register next to the exit makes this considerably harder.

A desperate or determined thief may pace around, hide in blind corners, or use other tricks to conceal their intent. These strange behaviors warrant your floor to monitor suspects' moves. Retail staff can spring into action by offering customer care or hovering around the perp, ensuring they don’t act on their impulse to steal.

Monitor Your Registers

Installing CCTV within view of your cash register discourages employee theft. Moreover, some shoplifters may also try their luck if your staff is sloppy. Assailants may grab some cash and make a break for the exit if there isn’t an employee operating your cash register, so, ideally, have someone there all the time.

Implement Electronic Article Surveillance

You can place security tags on clothes, liquor bottles, and other easy-to-conceal items. These deter theft because they must be removed or deactivated when a customer leaves the store. Otherwise, a sensor detects them, and alarms go off.

It takes a considerable investment, especially for small retailers. Nonetheless, the value of ROI (return on investment) is realized when you prevent people from stealing highly-priced items.

Leverage Your Point Of Sale (POS.) System

Your POS system is like an ace hidden up your sleeve! It effectively allows you to keep tabs on incoming and outgoing merchandise.

With it in place, you can compare the sold items against your current inventory. It also allows you to establish missing quantities and launch a proper stock audit. It’s one of the best ways to counter inventory shrinkage, especially if it involves employee theft.

Monitor the Dressing Room

Customers expect a reasonable level of privacy inside dressing rooms. That’s why employees may leave such areas unmonitored for long periods. The would-be thief may capitalize on this lapse and hide clothes inside bags or wear them underneath.

You can prevent this by training your staff always to remain close to the dressing room. Employees may offer assistance if they feel the customer is taking too long. It also helps if your staff checks the number of items each client has when they enter or exit these private spaces.

Keep High-Value Items under Lock-And-Key

High-ticket items appeal the most to shoplifters and seasoned criminals. The thieves can resell them on the streets at almost retail price (sometimes even higher if they are rare items). So, consider locking valuable goods in a protective glass display case.

Always secure electronics like phones to security cords. This provision allows customers to try out products, minus the risk of concealment or thieves dashing with the item.

Have a Strict Bag-Check Policy

A determined thief will hide items even if your employees check what they have while entering the dressing room. It helps to ban admission into the dressing room area with handbags or backpacks.

Alternatively, provide secure locks, which customers affix to their bags. That way, you don’t have to invade their privacy. Some people may complain about the inconvenience, but it won’t deter regular clientele.

Get the Police Involved In Your Shoplifting Prevention Strategy

Letting people get away with warnings for shoplifting or retail theft is tempting. After all, who needs all the hustle and negative publicity, especially for a low-cost item?

However, this could affect your bottom line in the long term. The rush & easy profit people get from shoplifting and retail theft are addictive. Therefore, you’re enabling them by giving them a slap on the wrist.

It helps sending a clear and stern warning to all would-be shoplifters. Getting cops involved tells them your store isn’t a soft target. Seek guidance from your local police department when making a retail theft prevention plan.

Turning shoplifters to the police (especially if they are kids) is a cold move, but it’s the best bet for every small retail business wishing to counter massive shrinkage.

Ready to Enhance the Security in Your Retail Store?

Retail theft and shoplifting are operational risks for every business. It can be devastating, especially for small retailers that can’t afford the latest security systems or pay ever-rising insurance premiums.

The shoplifting prevention tips in this guide should get you on the right track. Why bother with all that? When you can, rest assured of SOS Private Security. We offer a comprehensive safety net that covers all aspects of your daily retail security needs.

Reach out today to find out more about our services. With us by your side, you can focus on what you love most—stalking the profits and making it home to spend quality time with the family!


What Are Examples Of Retail Theft?

A common example is concealment theft, where a perpetrator hides stolen goods intending to leave the store without paying. Some assailants may also grab and run with items to avoid payment. Sophisticated methods like price tag switching allow thieves to pay less for an item.

What Is Stealing Called In Retail?

It’s referred to as shoplifting or retail theft. This term constitutes any act to obtain goods from a retail store without payment or via other fraudulent means.

What Are The Signs Of Organized Retail Crime?

Signs of ORC include cash/credit card fraud, frequent store visits, purchases of large quantity items, and a particular interest in high-value items. They work in large groups that cause distractions as they make away with goods, which they resell. Look out for suspicious employee behavior, such as tampering with security systems, as they may be part of the conspiracy.

Is Retail Theft A Felony In Pa?

The severity of retail theft and shoplifting varies with the stolen item's value in Pennsylvania. Stolen items that cost under $150 are deemed a misdemeanor. Anything over that amount is a felony and attracts considerable fines or a prison sentence.

What Are The Two Types Of Shoplifters?

You should be concerned about two types of shoplifters: amateur shoplifters who do it out of impulse or for the rush. Then there are professionals who may belong to an organized retail crime (ORC) syndicate. ORCs steal despite the risk because it is how they make a living.