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Home > Services > Corporate Loss Prevention Programs > Shoplifting


Shoplifting: Stealing, Retail Establishment, Price Switching, Theft, Criminal Conversion, Physical Safety, Security, LP Awareness /  Consultation / Training


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Shoplifting: A Part of Our Culture Policy Evaluation Criteria
Where is the Justice? Design & Implement a Policy
Shoplifting Case Studies Why Do People Shoplift?
Dealing with a Major Problem Deterring Shoplifting

Shoplifting is the commonly used term to describe the act (by a non-employee) of removing something from a retail establishment, during business hours, without making payment for it. An even more common word, 'stealing,' is also used to describe this act. In fact, there are no criminal statutes known as 'shoplifting' or 'stealing'; they are simply terms used to describe the act.

Shoplifting: A Part of Our Culture

Shoplifting is a well-entrenched cultural phenomena as evidenced by the many slang terms used to describe the act that have evolved thru time such as 'boost', 'rip-off', 'jack', 'clip', 'get-over', 'gank', 'pocket', 'swipe', and the truly descriptive 'five finger discount'.

The act of price switching, or intentionally altering price tags or stickers on merchandise in an effort to pay an amount less than what the owner is actually selling the item for, is another extremely common form of shoplifting. Theft, petty theft and criminal conversion are the most frequent legal terms applied to the act of shoplifting.

A variety of local and state laws cover the crime, and the penalties for the offense vary based on the particular statute. Pertinent factors for a case in which the suspect is eventually prosecuted that should be documented include:

  • Where the act takes place
  • What item(s) were removed
  • Total value
  • How the act was perpetrated
  • Was anyone injured during the event
  • Any mitigating circumstances

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Shoplifting: Where is the Justice? or "How to Succeed in Prosecuting a Shoplifter & Stay on the Right Side of the Law!"

In criminal court, for the Prosecuting Attorney's Office to prove that a theft or criminal conversion has taken place, certain specific elements of the crime must be established beyond a reasonable doubt during trial. If the case reaches court, a common defense is challenging the prosecution's efforts to prove 'intent'.

There are many variables to conducting the successful apprehension of a suspected shoplifter. In many cases it is not enough that an employee witnessed an individual conceal the item on his person in the middle of the store. Store personnel responding to a shoplifting incident should be trained to comply with company policy and still remain prepared for any response from the suspect.

If the suspect is injured during apprehension, if the court case is unsuccessful, or if the suspect's rights were violated, the business could find itself in a defendant's role against charges of false arrest, assault, battery, defamation of character or any number of contentions by the 'victim' of your well-intentioned staff. In fact, there are individuals who have made a career out of intentionally acting suspiciously like shoplifters in the hope they will be stopped improperly so they can bring suit against the business that made the apprehension.

For more details on what is needed to obtain a successful shoplifting prosecution and how to prevent claims against your business, read Shoplifting: Where is the Justice?

Shoplifting Case Studies

Even a seemingly 'good' shoplifting 'stop' can have disastrous consequences for your business and people's lives. Here are two examples of how a lack of loss prevention training can lead to tragic personal and expensive financial results:

Case Study # 1:: The Injured Shoe Shopper

Case Study # 2: The Over-Aggressive Big Box Floorwalker

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Shoplifting: Dealing with a Major Problem

Shoplifting (theft) is an enormous issue in the retail world that results in hundreds of millions of dollars in loss each year. In addition, companies spend tens of millions of dollars annually on Loss Prevention Departments to deter shoplifters and provide Loss Prevention personnel with tools to combat the issue.

In addition, each year thousands of employees will be injured by a shoplifter directly or in some other way as they are attempting to detain a shoplifter while at work. Add the administrative expense and lost productive time involved when a theft case is prosecuted and payment of settlements when a case turns 'bad' and you get a true picture of the overall cost of this crime.

Business has little choice but to pass these expenses along to consumers with price increases. Crime index statistics and business surveys conducted all reveal that the problem is growing steadily with each passing year, despite the expenditures to combat it noted above.

We examine the response alternatives that a business might consider relative to the problem of shoplifting. Each of the alternatives has positive and negative ramifications, so it's important to thoroughly consider all options and find a balanced approach that suits your business. Read Shoplifting: Dealing with a Major Problem for more details.

After reviewing both ‘extreme’ alternatives, hopefully you will be better able to understand why, as stated earlier there is no single best way of responding to the issue of shoplifting

Shoplifting Policy Evaluation Criteria

Now we will examine the factors that should be evaluated when attempting to find the optimal approach to fighting shoplifting in a retail store environment.  It is essential to identify the type of retail business being evaluated and consider specific characteristics to determine the most effective strategy to employ.

Some businesses are much more likely to be targeted by shoplifters than others. It is important to have an understanding of your store or business from that perspective.  The type of products sold is a primary factor in their likelihood of being shoplifted.  Merchandise that is universally needed, desired or used is often stolen so it can be resold on the ‘street’.

For full details about what criteria to consider when evaluating your shoplifting prevention policies, read Shoplifting Evaluation Criteria.

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Design and Implementation of an Appropriate Shoplifting Policy

After evaluating the factors described above it will be necessary to design and implement your policy.  It is important that a retail business has a clearly defined written policy regarding shoplifting.  Many businesses post the shoplifting policy in plain view of customers, much like a return policy.  This serves as a deterrent to some, but more importantly, it identifies the store’s intentions clearly and can’t be questioned in court.

In the event a shoplifter is apprehended by store employees, arrested by local law enforcement and eventually prosecuted in criminal court, the written policy serves as the company’s foundation for the actions taken. It is also critically important that the shoplifting policy and its attentive responsibilities, is explained to all employees of the business.

The ‘Shoplifting Policy’ should not be a stand alone document, but rather a piece of an overall Loss Prevention Program that has been designed specifically for your business. A loss prevention professional with appropriate training, experience and technological expertise should be utilized when designing any Loss Prevention Program.

The actual components of a specific Shoplifting Policy should be created from among the dozens of available, proven strategies to fight the issue. These strategies have been developed by retail loss prevention professionals over time, and proven to be effective in reducing the incidence of shoplifting and improving the outcome of prosecutions.  For more details, and examples of various components, read Design & Implement an Appropriate Shoplifting Policy.

Why Do People Shoplift?

To a Loss Prevention professional with 25 years experience, the question ‘Why do people shoplift?’ is actually humorous.  Suffice to say, the motivations behind shoplifting are as many and varied as the persons who perpetrate the criminal act

Without delving too deeply into psychology, its safe to say that some shoplifters do so for a reason totally unrelated to acquiring the item they are removing, while a portion are full-time professionals who make a good living at it, until they are caught, that is. They can be broken down into two distinct categories, casual or amateur shoplifters and the professional or "lifestyle" shoplifter. For information about the difference between them, and the risks involved with each, read Why Do People Shoplift?  

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Deterring The Shoplifter

Interviews conducted with convicted thieves reveal much about how to deter shoplifters from causing losses in your store.  It is imperative to establish an environment in the store and among your employees that is not casual, but alert and aware.

Stores that take pro-active measures to deter shoplifting and also have policies, personnel and/or equipment in place to assist in apprehending shoplifters will be avoided by the professionals and make casual, spontaneous shoplifters seriously reconsider their impulses.

Shoplifting will never be completely eliminated, but it can be deterred and decreased with appropriate effort and professional loss prevention know-how. For information about bringing this know-how to your company, call 317-363-8312, send email to or submit the short form below:

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