Why Do People Shoplift?
Why Do People Shoplift?: Motivations, Professional Shoplifting
Teams, Amateurs, Opportunists, Impulse Shoplifting,
Criminal Lifestyle, Violent. Dangerous
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
Without delving too deeply into psychology, its safe to
say that a certain percentage of 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 / Amateur Shoplifters
Statistics show that
most shoplifting is not committed by professionals but instead by
otherwise ‘honest’ persons who have done it previously and not been
caught. Many persons actually enter a retail store without any
intention of stealing, but once inside consider it and then proceed to
commit the act.
Some of these shoplifters are simply ‘opportunists’ and
steal because they notice some item attractive to them and quickly
decide that concealing it and eventually removing it will be easy. They
perceive little or no risk when contemplating the act.
rationalize their theft by convincing themselves that since the store or
business makes a large profit it won’t be hurt by a few minor losses
Others may have had a disagreement with a store employee or manager and
rationalize that stealing is a way to ‘get even’ with the person.
shoplifting incidents occur in the check-out lanes, while customers are
waiting to purchase other items. Ironically, the same marketing
philosophy that inspires ‘impulse buying’ also stimulates ‘impulse
Case in Point:
Many years ago, a woman was detained by a Loss Prevention officer in
a retail drug store in Indianapolis, IN for suspicion of shoplifting
cosmetics. The Loss Prevention Manager, coincidentally, was in the
store at the time performing a check-list, and this became a perfect
opportunity to observe his employee respond to the incident.
The suspect was a woman
in her mid-forties, well dressed, wearing a full-length leather coat.
She was also well spoken, once she had been escorted inside the
interview room. Immediately upon entering the room, the woman opened
her expensive designer purse and removed several cosmetic items that she
had recently concealed there.
She did not appear to be nervous or
panicky as many suspects are at the time of apprehension. Instead,
the woman acted rather indignantly and quickly demanded to know
how much the items were worth. The LP officer estimated the total value at about
$35.00 and the woman reached into her purse and produced a billfold
containing an estimated $700.00 - $800.00. She found a fifty dollar
bill and attempted to hand it to the LP officer.
Correctly, the officer
did not accept the cash from the suspect. Company policy dictated that
anyone apprehended in the act of shoplifting was to be prosecuted. If
the officer accepted the cash, it could very well have been construed
later as an acceptance of payment for the items.
In certain situations,
due to the wording of the applicable statutes, accepting payment for the item(s) may negate the criminal act. If a suspect achieved that
position, the store could find itself in jeopardy of committing ‘false
The suspect in this case
was not offering payment to avoid criminal prosecution. In fact,
she eventually asked if she was going to be arrested, and if so,
wanted to know what would happen to her car. It was determined she was driving a new
Once the woman was informed that the police were being
contacted and the store was pressing charges, she finally made a comment
that might have been a clue to her motivation for attempting to steal
items she could have paid for twenty times over.
The woman looked at
the LP officer and stated “Maybe now that SOB husband of mine will
finally pay some attention to me!”
A significant percentage
of all shoplifting is conducted by professionals, often working in pairs
or larger teams. The professionals target items that have significant
resale value on the ‘street’. Stolen product is frequently resold at
‘flea markets’, or in other informal ways. Most professionals target
specific items, or are instructed about what to go after by an organizer
Retail stores that fail to protect their products
adequately are frequent victims of professionals and can become known as
‘easy targets’, which in turn draws more shoplifters. Professional
shoplifters are typically long-time criminals and many are dangerous. A
percentage will have prior convictions and could be desperate to avoid
going back to prison.
Extreme caution should be used before attempting
to apprehend one of these "career criminals".
Finally, there are a
significant percentage of shoplifters that have adopted the criminal act
as part of their everyday lifestyle. These people are typically
homeless, or deeply entrenched in poverty. They may also be hard-core
alcoholics or drug abusers, unemployed and/or recently released from
prison or jail.
Many of these people have been in and out of the
criminal justice system repeatedly throughout their lives. Some are not
overly concerned about being caught, arrested or incarcerated so
attempts at deterring them are not very successful. Like the
professionals, these people can become violent and dangerous and should
be approached with extreme caution.
Deterring The Shoplifter
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.
While 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
info@SummitLossPrevention.com. or submit the short form below: