Security market analyst

Author Bio ▼

Hunter Seymour is a security market analyst with expertise in both the fire and security markets.
September 21, 2020

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The Video Surveillance Report 2022

Defeating shoplifters: Your ‘prevent and deter’ checklist

Sourced from a variety of industry experts, including a former Met Detective Chief Inspector, Hunter Seymour outlines a useful checklist for business owners and security officers to follow to prevent shoplifting in retail.

These unprecedented times have sparked new challenges for retailers to fight today’s consumer crime and to develop countermeasures for the post-pandemic future. The retail industry anticipates a trend in shoplifting that is bleak, with predicted mass unemployment suggesting an increase in retail crime, together with opportunistic offending against a background of stretched police resources, and closures of law courts unable to cope with rising backlogs that congest the justice system.

What’s more, the Centre for Retail Research estimates that shoplifting costs the UK nearly £2 billion annually; it impacts everyone, with retail crime adding an estimated £80 each year to the average shopper’s costs.


Image courtesy of Met Police – Further advice available here.

It is timely, then, to consider those essential actions risk management can take to ‘prevent and deter’ the perpetrators of this tenacious social problem and reduce potential theft. So let’s take a quick overview of the shoplifter’s modus operandi, with some notes on crime mapping and the latest solutions to outsmart the criminals.

1) Crime mapping

A critical strategy is defined as ‘defensive merchandising’. This means identifying your store’s “hotspots” where thefts are happening. Keep records of locations, dates, times and CCTV of incidents of theft or suspicious behaviour to assemble data for analysis that can assist your understanding of crime patterns.

From the data you can compile a watch list to improve your surveillance of suspects, such as:

  • Increase your security to prepare for peak times
  • Are these hotspots visible by all staff?
  • If necessary, rearrange stock or shelving to improve line-of-sight. High shelves, narrow aisles and dead ends all assist shoplifters to work undetected.
  • Use convex mirrors so suspects can’t hide round corners.
  • In addition, visible signage of presence of CCTV with warnings against shoplifting can help deter criminals.
  • Consider assigning more staff to these hotspot locations or even displaying the items elsewhere

2) Anti-theft stock control

Veteran retailers have well-established psychological ploys to discourage “shrinkage”. Prominent stacks of low-value products, where shown to be accessible, will be regarded as not worth enough to shoplift – unwieldy 2 litre bottles of water, for example.

One convenience store owner says: “We’ve filled shoplifting hot spots with large 24-pack bags of crisps and toilet roll multipacks. We only display what you can realistically expect to sell during trading hours and replenish as necessary.”

Expensive items, as well as those that are easy to steal, should be moved near to the tills where staff can see them. Effective inventories are the key to deterrence – if stock loss is a prevailing pattern, business owners need to know the precise origin of the theft.

3) Footfall flow planning

How a store is laid out can be a deterrent to shoplifters. Maintain wide, well-lit, uncluttered aisles where possible, to make it extremely difficult for shoplifters to steal unnoticed. Ensure there are no blind spots.

Traka-RetailSecruity1-20One store owner explains: “All retailers know that once the shoplifters are aware of our ramped-up vigilance they tend to behave themselves.” Breaking a pattern of behaviour can often be the simple answer to habitual theft. “At one store we had two entrances, so we’ve shut one off completely and we plan to have one entry and one exit past the till.”

Accordingly, the siting of merchandise should anticipate the “quick grabs” theft, whereby a lone shoplifter grabs an item near the front door, and then runs off (note: this tactic in itself could also be a distraction technique of organised crime).

4) Risk assessment 

A recent Crime Survey by the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) reveals that 80% of shoplifters are repeat offenders. Compliance, then, with your store’s policy on how to deal with shoplifters must also take into account the persistent menace of these prolific offenders.

When a typical convenience store owner, say, perceives the value of their annual losses to be twice as large as investment in security personnel to protect their premises, then a tough question must be answered by risk management: “How much will the penalty cost me NOT to have security?”

Consider joining a Business Watch Scheme in your locality. Have you banned known offenders? Often such schemes are town-wide with premises linked by radios or informally via messaging such as WhatsApp.

Essentially, risk management should ensure their in-store crime prevention technologies – CCTV, In-Camera Analytics, Audio Alerts, Electronic Tagging Systems, etc. – are regularly assessed and audited for system maintenance and performance to meet demand.

5) Employee training

Do you have a policy of “Meet and Greet” to ask if help is required as customers enter the store? Face-to-face interactions with your customers can frustrate a shoplifter’s intentions if they believe they’ve been identified. Staff who willingly engage with customers send out a strong message that they will identify and react to suspicious behaviour.

Make sure the private code that alerts all staff to the presence of a potential shoplifter is updated regularly and staff informed of the process, whether transmitted by word, audio devices such as tannoys or another messaging system.

Advise staff to frequently monitor ‘Hotspot Routes’ (where thefts are most likely to occur) when they move around the store. Make sure staff are trained in how to spot shoplifters and to engage with a potential shoplifter only when it is safe to do so.

6) Behavioural signs to spot offenders 

Shoplifters’ tricks of the trade are increasingly inventive, yet common behaviours may help you identify a thief, such as:

  • Lingering with attention distracted by covertly watching staff and CCTV cameras for threat of detection.
  • Carrying large bags; foil lined bags are often used to conceal goods with anti theft tags.
  • Wearing seasonally inappropriate clothing, such as heavy coats, to conceal items.
  • Appearing nervous, even sweating or shaking, apparently checking a watch or bag and picking up items without showing any genuine interest.
  • Repeatedly refusing offers of help.
  • Frequently entering store but not purchasing anything.
  • Distraction manoeuvres such as entering in a group, with one or two members causing a scene or acting ostentatiously to distract staff while goods are concealed unnoticed.
  • Shoplifters will change price tags or even remove items from the store and try to seek a refund, even though they have not purchased.

7) Video Surveillance and analytics

Video surveillance and CCTV provides both a useful deterrence and crucial analytical information to help secure retail stores and discourage shoplifters. Analytics and AI integrated in modern cameras not only support in occupancy management measures, but also allow for an understanding of footfall throughout the store, to support in identifying ‘hotspots’ when crime mapping, as discussed above.

Cameras can simultaneously detect and classify various object types to remove the potential for false alarms, while HD and 4K options now provide high quality image recording for a greater potential of prosecution, if shoplifters do operate.

They can also work in conjunction with networked audio devices, which can provide audible alerts if individuals are spotted loitering, suspicious behaviour is identified, or even just to remind shoppers that they are being watched.

An under-reported crime

Organised retail crime is a common occurrence, with opportunistic shoplifters regularly on the lookout for stores with a weak layout or poor security practices in their store policy. David McKelvey, former Met Detective Chief Inspector and founder of TM-Eye, provider of bespoke protective services, says: ‘There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has provided a fertile breeding-ground that has seen a rise in opportunistic retail crime.

“During the six months of the coronavirus crisis, we have observed a shift away from the normal opportunistic shoplifting offences towards more sophisticated and targeted thefts from shops involving stolen goods for resale both online and in markets and car boot sales. The organised criminal gangs involved in systemic shoplifting offences across London have now returned in force as shops have started to open post the COVID-19 lockdown.

“Our watchword is ‘Prevent and Deter’, and for us its fulfilment is achieved by robust enforcement of the law. We are now prosecuting theft shoplifting cases on a daily basis by way of private criminal prosecutions, putting offenders before the courts to face justice. The impact on offending at specific stores that use the service has been significant with reductions in losses.”

Despite figures from the Office for National Statistics showing that shop theft has declined, it should be noted that, according to the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS), the crime of shoplifting is an under-reported crime. In fact, many retailers surveyed by the ACS claim that the response they receive from the police actively deters them from reporting incidents.

Having vigilant well-trained staff – supported by applicable anti-theft systems – is key to deterring shoplifters and preventing retail loss. Remember, aggression can often be the knee-jerk response of an aggrieved shoplifter when their theft is exposed. If they appear armed, do not apprehend them.

Life is more precious than any piece of merchandise!

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