Shoplifting has affected business’s bottom lines as the early days of commerce. For very small companies who frequently walk a thin line of profit, shoplifting becomes an even more prominent issue. With inventory shrinkage numbers topping $50 billion in the United States, it stands to reason that one of the most important tasks of independent shops like yours is preventing inventory shrinkage and theft.
As an independent retail store, coffee shop, or restaurant, you undoubtedly experience issues with customers trying to avoid paying on a frequent basis. In a regular store setting, this may involve unscrupulous people tucking product into their pockets or purses. They may also change price tags to pay a lower amount for a more expensive item. In an eatery, thieves dine and dash or make off with everything from coffee mugs to condiments.
In these digital days, the concept of shoplifting and theft extends to your point of sale inventory management and payment processing hardware and software. You can lose profits through cybercrime, credit card fraud, and errors and issues created by an out of date or inefficient POS system. The high-tech cash register or other point of sale system you use will identify discrepancies in inventory and revenue immediately so you can take decisive action against theft. Mobile systems allow shop workers to walk around and prevent sneaky behavior.
The absolute best way to protect your business from this type of inventory and profit loss is to recognize the signs of shoplifting and minimize the opportunities for thieves to get their hands on your goods.
Look Out for These Signs of Shoplifting in Business
Before learning how to identify telltale signs that someone may steal from you, it is of the utmost importance for you to recognize any internal biases and get rid of them. Retail criminals are not a specific race, gender, age, or from a socioeconomic group. Instead of profiling, pay attention to behaviors that often go along with shoplifting.
Remember Past Troublemakers
As a very small independent shop or eatery, you have the right to refuse service to anyone. If someone has stolen from you before or has attempted to and you caught them, post their photo or other identifying information near your point of sale system, cash register, and in the break room. You should get an image of them from your security camera system. Make sure that all employees know they are not allowed to come into the store anymore and are banned from the premises.
While you may be willing to give people a second chance in your everyday life, you cannot take risks with the profitability of a business you own.
Customers With Unusual Behaviors
The average shopper or person stopping in for lunch at your café pays attention to the products of interest or the menu. They glance around with interest from time to time, but generally focus on what they want to buy or the meal they have in front of them. The only time they will look at shop assistants or waitstaff is when they want service directly. Of course, as a quality business, your employees will provide excellent customer service.
People who intend to steal something or get away without paying for their meal focus on staff more than necessary. Instead of looking at a rack of T-shirts, for example, they will shift their gaze to see where the retail associates are standing and if anyone is paying attention to them.
Other unusual behaviors that may reveal a shoplifter include spending excess time in the restroom, dressing rooms, near the exits, or in any one particular part of the store that does not offer enough interest to warrant the time. For example, if a person at a clothing boutique spends 15 minutes looking at a small rack of plain T-shirts, it still insists they do not need help, your suspicions may arise.
Bags, Bulky Clothing, and Other Tools of Theft
Long or fluffy coats are normal to see in the depth of winter, but if someone enters your establishment wearing one in warm weather, keep an eye out for things disappearing underneath it. People who shop at multiple stores may carry in bags, but your suspicion should grow when someone with a backpack or huge handbag displays other odd behaviors.
You cannot notice a utility knife or small scissor in a pocket use to snip off price tags or security sensors. It is difficult to spot the bolt of a piece of jewelry in an ordinary pocket or purse. However, you may prevent some shoplifting if you keep a close eye on the ones who make it more obvious.
Any Attempt to Distract Attention
Shoplifters frequently travel in groups. One or two people will cause a distraction while another tucks merchandise into their pockets or bag. This process may involve spreading out to the store to divide your attention, asking questions or complaining about a minor issue, or actively creating a point to focus by knocking things off a shelf or spilling their drink all over the restaurant table.
Seasoned shoplifters have perfected these techniques so unaware salespeople or waitstaff will not even notice anything wrong. After all, if someone in the store approaches you ask for help, you want to give excellent customer service every time. It is difficult to do so while still paying attention to someone else on the other side of the store.
How to Minimize Shoplifting Risks
Now that you recognize things to look out for, you need a strong plan and a robust POS system to help you minimize inventory loss and decreased revenues and profits. Prevention matters more than your response in many cases. After all, if someone does steal an item off your shelf, you cannot chase them down through the streets and make a citizen’s arrest. While you should report crimes like this, the chance of a relatively simple shoplifting case resulting in a conviction is quite slim.
Therefore, it is up to you and your trusted employees to stop shoplifters before they have the opportunity to ruin your profit margin. These methods will help you succeed with your small business.
Effective Employee Training
As most of the shoplifting indications are visual or behavioral, it is important to train all your employees to take notice of how people act when they walk into the shop, if they linger excessively, carry large bags, or attempt to create distractions. You can instruct them in quality customer service techniques that reduce the opportunity for thieves to grab something or run out the door without paying. Shoplifters want to avoid attention, so simply asking if they need help with anything can frequently stop their plans.
Always make sure your employees know about any repeat offenders by pointing out their photos or other information. However, also ensure they understand that they should never confront or physically try to restrain anyone who is shoplifting or suspicious. Their safety matters more than your profits.
Point of Sale Inventory Management
An old-fashioned cash register may add a touch of vintage style to your shop or restaurant, but it will not provide the information you need to keep track of inventory and revenue. Modern systems benefit businesses in numerous ways, but one of the most important involves real-time knowledge of potential theft. With a few taps on the screen, you can determine if your revenue matches your inventory levels. If not, you may have an issue with shoplifting.
Point of sale systems also minimize the chance of loss due to employee theft, mismanagement, and things like credit card fraud. Unfortunately, all of these problems plague businesses of all sizes. When it comes to ensuring long-term profitability, data collection and analysis can help you transform how you approach everyday business and keep things more secure.
Security Systems and Video Cameras
Although a top-of-the-line security system complete with continuous use video surveillance may cost too much to consider for a young small business, it does provide a lot of protection against shoplifting and other issues. Sometimes, the presence of visible cameras and signs that state the premises are protected by security are enough to deter would-be thieves.
In most cases, these are useful after the fact to catch and prosecute criminals. Also, they let you get still pictures of the troublemakers you can post by the checkout counter or in the break room. Without video proof, it is very difficult to get the police department to do anything to get your merchandise back or arrest the shoplifters.
Merchandise Tracking Tags
Another way to stop shoplifting directly is to use those clamped merchandise alarm tags or what is called electronic article surveillance (EAS). You need to attach one to every product you want to protect. This coincides with sensors at the exits so if a shoplifter tries to take a product out of the store, and alarm goes off. Unfortunately, many savvy thieves find ways around these types of systems. Some even have the tools to remove them hidden in their pockets. Others use small blades to cut the fabric or packaging to remove the tracking tags.
What to Do If You Spot a Shoplifter?
For everyone’s safety, the most important thing to do if you spot a suspicious person or someone actively shoplifting is to keep your distance and engage in a safe manner. When you hire employees, also teach them these response techniques to minimize not only the chance of danger but also possible legal issues going forward.
The first step in the process is always to practice good observational skills and figure out what is really happening before you move in and contact the person directly. Remember not to let your biases affect your judgment. Instead, look for nervous behavior, avoiding eye contact, lingering your exit doors or in hidden places in the shop or restaurant, and other behaviors mentioned above. If you are still suspicious that the person may be up to no good, follow the steps below.
1 – Take a Customer Service Approach
Approach the person in question as you would anyone else in your small retail store, coffee shop, diner, or other business. Smile and ask if you can help them with anything. Sometimes, an approach that lets them know you notice them is enough to stop a potential theft.
However, remember that not all shoplifters work alone. While you are assisting one person, remain aware of the other people in the area and what they might do. In the case of professional thieves, the group working together will enter your business at different times and not interact with each other at all to throw you off their trail.
2 – Use Your POS Mobile Unit as a Tool
If the suspicious person is holding a piece of merchandise or sitting down at the counter to get a cup of coffee or meal, bring your point of sale tablet or other mobile gadget with you to engage them further in the customer service activities. Talk about what they are holding and show them options on the screen if you have that type of inventory management. You may even offer to check them out right there under the guise of saving them time and offering more convenience.
3 – Ask Questions Instead of Making Accusations
When you start out with a simple, “Is there anything I can help you with today?” Or whatever customer service questions you tell your employees to ask, it may disarm the thief and stop them from their plans. However, experienced shoplifters may respond calmly and simply delay their attempts until you seem satisfied with their answers and leave them alone again.
If you strongly feel like the person has already shoplifted something, ask more pointed questions like, “Can I help you check out those products you’re holding?” If you own a restaurant or a service-related business, and a person attempts to leave without paying, it makes perfect sense to redirect them to the POS with a friendly comment about processing their payment.
In most cases, it is an awfully bad idea to boldly approach the thief and accuse him of stealing directly. Make sure your employees know that you do not expect them to do this ever. Although you may be tempted to restrain shoplifters verbally or even physically, this can escalate the problem and increase the chance of violence or property damage.
4 – Let Them Go and Contact the Authorities
If you decide to accuse them directly, stay calm and simply state something like, “The security video recorded you putting an item into your bag. Could you please come to the office with me?” The mention of video surveillance may convince them to cooperate. The calm question may help defuse the situation.
Any sign of aggravated emotions or a physical response that either puts your establishment or other people in danger needs immediate de-escalation. Step back, let go, disengage, and let the shoplifter leave. It is better to experience inventory loss than injury. Call the authorities, hand over the videotape and your statement, and leave everything to them.
Every state has its own shoplifting laws. They may include theft or larceny charges but are generally considered misdemeanors unless the thief makes off with exceptionally expensive merchandise or has repeated charges against them. If you have security footage and a quality police force, the chance of the criminal getting in trouble increases. The chance of merchandise recovery is unfortunately slim. In some places, it is possible to bring civil charges against the thief for monetary compensation. This is especially true if the person also damaged your property during the commitment of the crime.
Unfortunately, inventory loss and the associated profit loss due to theft happens for every retail business out there. No matter how well you train your employees, what security alarms and cameras you install, and the point of sale system you use, you will not be able to catch every shoplifter. However, making wise choices can greatly minimize the money you lose every year.
Besides paying attention and discouraging suspicious behavior through quality customer service practices, your POS hardware and software is one of the most important tools you have in the fight against shoplifting. You need information about your inventory and revenue updated in real time, so you always know exactly where your business stands. This helps you identify potential issues and minimize the risks going forward.