• Center for Problem oriented policing

Summary of Responses to Shoplifting

The table below summarizes the responses to shoplifting, the mechanisms by which they are intended to work, the conditions under which they should work best, and some factors you should consider before implementing a particular response. It is critical that you tailor responses to local circumstances, and that you can justify each response based on reliable analysis. In most cases, an effective strategy will involve implementing several different responses. Law enforcement responses alone are seldom effective in reducing or solving the problem.

Responses 1-13 outlined below address all shoplifting, while 14-18 deal specifically with shoplifting conducted by organized groups. Responses 19-23 are those with limited effectiveness.

Response No.ResponseHow It WorksWorks Best If....Considerations
For All Shoplifting
Retailing Practice

Improving store layout and displays

Makes it easier for staff to exercise effective surveillance....staff are trained and motivated to detect shopliftingMay be relatively inexpensive, but some stores' basic design makes it hard to eliminate all opportunities for shoplifters to conceal their activity

Tightening stock controls

Helps managers to detect changes in amounts or patterns of shoplifting....managers have incentives to reduce shopliftingIncreases in source tagging and electronic point-of-sales systems will gradually lead to improvements in stock control
3Upgrading retail securityMakes it harder for shoplifters to operate....staff and managers have incentives to reduce shopliftingSome security practices may be unpopular with staff and customers alike, and consequently have the effect of reducing sales; they sometimes carry costs in terms of staff time
4Posting warning notices on high-risk merchandiseAlerts potential thieves that identified merchandise may be subject to special surveillance

....the notices identify the most frequently targeted items

A low-cost measure; might alarm some innocent shoppers
5Hiring more and better-trained sales staffMakes it harder for shoplifters to operate....staffing levels are increased at high-risk periodsCan be a relatively expensive way to reduce shoplifting

Hiring security guards

Provides a deterrent to shoplifters who might otherwise believe they could escape if apprehended by sales staff....the guards are properly trained, are physically imposing, and have an active, visible presenceGuard characteristics and behavior are extremely important: poor guards have no effect on shoplifting

Hiring loss prevention and asset protection teams

Improves strategic responses to prevent and deter shoplifting....the teams are briefed about the specific concerns and guided to focus on certain key areasSome team functions may overlap with those already employed by store security personnel
Shoplifting Policies
8Using civil recoveryProvides retailers with a practical means of recovering some shoplifting costs; penalizes and deters apprehended shoplifters....administrative procedures are clear and uncomplicated, and shoplifters are able to pay restitutionMay not be an option for small retailers who lack time and resources to pursue civil recovery
9Using informal police sanctionsOf unknown deterrent value, but saves time for retailers, police, and the criminal justice system....combined with efforts to change offenders' attitudes about shopliftingUsually used only with first-time offenders; often limited to juveniles

Installing and monitoring CCTV

Increases surveillance of vulnerable merchandise and locations; can be used to identify offenders after the act and/or provide evidence for charges....the CCTV cameras are located close to key areas (offenders can conceal goods elsewhere, such as around blind corners, in elevators, and in stairwells)Employees must be trained in equipment's use; equipment must be adequate to keeping close watch on suspicious individuals; staff watching monitors quickly become fatigued

Using electronic article surveillance

Detects shoplifters trying to leave store with concealed goods....the tags are difficult to remove without damaging goodsFewer customers Staff may become complacent about other antitheft policies and procedures; not all merchandise can be easily tagged; an expensive option, but source tagging will reduce costs
12Attaching ink tags to merchandiseRemoves the rewards of shoplifting by rendering stolen goods unusable....combined with electronic article surveillanceNot all merchandise can be easily tagged; ink tag security can be compromised by theft of tag-removal equipment
13Using advanced surveillance electronic systemsAdvanced software programs appended to surveillance systems allow for immediate detection of unusual activity....early warnings are attended to at once by monitoring centers or security personnelMay be expensive to obtain or maintain
For Organized Shoplifting

Establishing early warning systems

Eliminates element of surprise that organized shoplifting groups often rely on....systems are operated by stores whose merchandise is targeted by organized shopliftersA low-cost, sensible precaution for stores vulnerable to organized shoplifting
15Forming task forces with other law enforcement agenciesEnhances police intelligence about shoplifting incidents and groups....large organized criminal groups are involvedLaw enforcement priorities may vary across jurisdictions, which may affect outcome of investigations
16Forming partnerships and working with retailers and manufacturersEnhances shoplifting intelligence and improves theft prevention and offender apprehension....retailers express willingness to work closely with law enforcementRoles and functions should be established to avoid confusion
17Monitoring stores' goods suppliersReduces retailers' risk of purchasing goods previously stolen by organized shoplifters and therefore disrupts market in these goods....suppliers' premises are regularly inspected by loss prevention teams and store buyers are encouraged to watch for suspicious transactionsLoss prevention teams and buyers need to be trained and be given incentives to identify and report suspect goods and irregular transactions
18Using social networking sites to gather information about shoplifting incidentsEnhances police intelligence about shoplifting incidents and groups....monitoring helps identify and prevent future incidentsCan be resource and time consuming and may not always yield useful intelligence
Responses with Limited Effectiveness

Hiring store detectives

Deters offenders, especially casual shoplifters....the stores are large, so that detectives' identity does not become known, and detectives spend considerable time on shop floorMay not be an effective deterrent to more determined or organized shoplifters who can spot store detectives
20Arresting and prosecuting shopliftersPunishment deters shoplifters from offending again and deters other people from shoplifting....the chances of getting caught for shoplifting are perceived to be highRisks of getting caught are so low that shoplifters pay little attention to possible costs
21Using shaming punishments for first-time offendersFirst-time offenders learn how and why not to repeat their behavior....the sanction is combined with some other informal sanctionUncertain effectiveness; may be more effective if used with young offenders
22Banning known shopliftersDenies known shoplifters opportunity to steal

....the identities of those who have been convicted of shoplifting are publicized

May have some value in deterring shoplifting, but unless those identified have been convicted by a court, both merchants and police are vulnerable to legal challenge or public criticism

Launching public information campaigns

Informs public about shoplifting harms; encourages people to report shoplifting; increases knowledge about penalties....used to advertise new anti-shoplifting measuresLittle evidence exists that these campaigns reduce shoplifting, but they might change community attitudes