According to the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention, shoplifting is the number one property crime in the United States, with more than $13 billion worth of goods stolen every year. It estimates that more than 10 million people have been caught shoplifting in the past five years.

It's essential that shop owners and staff are aware of how to deal with shoplifters, since they can become abusive when confronted. According to the Association of Convenience Stores, verbal abuse of staff occurs in 54 percent of cases and violence causing injury in 21 percent. Staff should be trained to be aware of behavior that is likely to trigger abuse and how to deal with shoplifters, especially in difficult circumstances. OSHA may require you to take steps to protect employees from workplace hazards, including customer violence.

Develop a Policy

Every retailer should develop a policy for dealing with and reporting shoplifting. A small shopkeeper might consider this to be an unnecessary burden, but they are less likely than larger companies to have a security officer available. The policy should outline how to deal with shoplifters, providing guidelines such as when (if ever) to confront a shoplifter and detain them until the police arrive, and when to simply let them go — although in that case a thorough description should be written down in order to file a police report.

A best practice is to not take action unless the theft is seen by an employee or caught on tape. Do not encourage employees to give chase. This could subject you to risk, as well as put your employee in danger. All staff should be thoroughly trained in the measures to be taken, especially with regard to dealing with abusive customers. It's important they put their own safety first, given the data regarding how often violent situations develop. They should be aware of security measures that are in place, such as panic buttons and cameras.

However, when outlining your policy it is important to work with a legal adviser to develop a policy that takes into account applicable laws in your state. There is great variation between states over what's called "shopkeepers' privilege," or the right of businesses to detain suspected shoplifters. If you advise detainment in your policy, have clear rules about where, for how long and under what circumstances someone may be detained. Failure to abide by your state's rules can lead to charges of false imprisonment. Similarly, detaining someone without adequate probable cause can also land you in hot water.

To prevent your employees from overstepping their boundaries, make sure your policy outlines how suspected shoplifters should be treated, including being respectful and refraining from profiling or discrimination of any kind. You do not want your employees to make assumptions that someone is a thief based on their appearance, for example. Gap has a Customer Bill of Rights that details how to respectfully treat suspected shoplifters.

Boost Security

To make life harder for shoplifters, stores should be kept clean, tidy and uncluttered. High-value items should be kept in an area that can be closely monitored or easily protected. Ensure that employees can clearly see all entrances and exits.

Closed-circuit television (CCTV) surveillance may be an effective tool, especially if notices are placed around the store that CCTV is installed and in use. This will help in any investigations following a theft. All doors and windows should be adequately secured and stores with high-value merchandise might consider the use of external shutters.

The prevalence of shoplifting is high. While some people might consider it a crime with few victims, shopkeepers will see their revenue suffer and costs may have to be absorbed by legitimate customers. Taking commonsense measures such as these will help to reduce the risk.

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Tags: shoplifting employee safety Risk Management surveillance retailing