The detection, apprehension, and prevention of shoplifting is an important responsibility for many retail personnel. With the retail environment rapidly evolving due to e-commerce and globalization of the economy, the focus on shoplifting has increased with many retailers. Controlling expenses is important in retail operations.

One important expense is called “shrink”. Shrink is the difference between recorded and actual inventory. Retail shrink is generally caused by internal theft (employee theft), external theft (shoplifting) and administrative error (loss due to paperwork and human error). Internal theft and administrative error are addressed through training, auditing, and loss prevention personnel. Shoplifting is addressed through the training, policies, and procedures implemented by store personnel. Proper shoplifting policies and procedures should provide for the safety of customers, employees and shoplifters.

Many retailers focus their shoplifting training on deterrence instead of apprehension, especially retailers without loss prevention personnel. Deterrence measures focus on implementing customer service by identifying and interacting with suspicious shoppers. This is done by approaching the customers and engaging them in conversation that is directed towards proper customer service. An example would be a store employee approaching a customer and saying: “I noticed you were looking at the new shirts; we have some matching ties I’d like to show you”. Some retailers without loss prevention associates have policies and procedures that state only a manager or supervisor can stop and detain a person for shoplifting. Some other retailers may not allow the apprehension of shoplifters. Larger stores usually have loss prevention personnel.

Shoplifting laws allow retailers to stop and detain a person who has stolen merchandise. Properly stopping a patron for shoplifting requires:

  1. The employee must see the customer enter the area where the subject item is displayed.
  2. The employee must see the customer select the item.
  3. The employee must see the customer conceal, carry, push, or pull the item from its location.
  4. The employee must maintain constant and uninterrupted observation of the customer from the original location of the item to the point of detention.
  5. The employee must see that the customer failed to pay for the item.
  6. The employee must approach the shoplifter outside the store or after the last point of sale. This may be identified by a governmental entity.

Retail employees can use reasonable force in the apprehension of a shoplifter, and may pursue shoplifters. Some retailers specifically define when force can be used and may prohibit pursuits. The use of handcuffs should be addressed by the retailer and proper training of those employees who may use them. Some retailers alert other company stores with a description of the shoplifter and the product. This is because shoplifters often return the product for a cash refund or a gift card.

Retailers should have policies and procedures regarding the disposition of detained shoplifters. Retailers can notify the police, or recover the merchandise and release the shoplifter. Issuance of a trespass notice is sometimes part of the policies and procedures of the retailer. If the decision is made to notify the police, the police should be contacted within a reasonable period of time. The detention of a shoplifter should be for a reasonable length of time. Searching a shoplifter for weapons and recovering the stolen item(s) should be done in a reasonable manner. Notification of the police, detention of a shoplifter, and searching a shoplifter should be in compliance with the applicable governmental entity. A report should be done for all detentions regardless of the final disposition.

Civil demand statutes in many states allow stores to recover monetary damages in addition to either of the two aforementioned custodial outcomes. The retailer’s policies should identify when a civil demand is implemented.

By properly addressing shoplifting incidents, a retailer can effectively manage that portion of shrink that is caused by shoplifters and provide good customer service at the same time. Proper policies and procedures, and adequate training and management of personnel regarding those policies and procedures ensure a reasonable response to shoplifting incidents.

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