How to Prevent Shoplifting

The Reverend Tim Jones, the parish priest of St. Lawrence and St. Hilda in York last year advised his congregation to shoplift if they found themselves in hardship.

In his statement, he said: “I would ask that they do not steal from small, family businesses, but from national businesses, knowing that the costs are ultimately passed on to the rest of us in the form of higher prices”.

His remarks drew sharp criticism from many quarters to what most people in authority saw as encouraging criminal behavior. The bigger question that those critics failed the address is why is it that a Vicar of Christ saw fit to sanction shoplifting?

The answer lies in the fact that society perception of shoplifting is that it is a victimless crime. It is a Robin Hood type of crime – stealing from the rich to give to the poor.

But is this perception true? Is shoplifting a really a victimless crime?

The scope of the problem

Shoplifting accounted for 43% of UK’s retail shrinkage last year amounting to a whopping £1,767 million. 40.7% of retailers also reported an increase in attempted shoplifting a significant increase over the previous year. While this increase might be attributed to the recession, the effect remains enormous. Over 100 retail companies went into administration or seized to exit completely resulting in hundreds of thousands of job losses. When we add the closure of the likes of Woolworth and MFI that resulted in the loss of thousands of jobs we come to the conclusion that shoplifting is actually not a faceless crime. I am not suggesting that shoplifting alone was responsible for the demise of all those businesses and the resulting consequences, but it served as one of the catalyst.

Who are those who shoplift?

Shoplifters come from all walks of life. They may be young, old, poor, rich, employed or unemployed and they come from all social ethnic and economic groups. Therefore, it is difficult to piece together a comprehensive profile of a shoplifter. There are times when loss prevention personnel are able to spot a shoplifter based upon his demeanour, appearance and movement. For example someone dressed in a winter jacket in the middle of summer, carrying an empty bag into a shop or entering an exclusive shop when not dressed to match the type of customers that would ordinarily visit that shop are all indicators of a shoplifter.

However, professional shoplifters are aware of these facts therefore, they ensure they blend in with the crowd. The recent upsurge in so-called middle class shoplifters and Organised Retail Theft have added a new dynamic to the scenario.

The Motive for Shoplifting:

The reasons for shoplifting can be attributed to the following reasons:

1) Personal benefit

2) Peer pressure

3) Economic need

4) Physiological need

5) Mental illness

Categorising Shoplifters

Shoplifters can be categorised as follows:

  • Amateur Shoplifter
  • Professional Shoplifter
  • Juvenile Shoplifter
  • Kleptomaniac
  • Vagrant and Drug Addicts

How to Prevent Shoplifting

Shoplifters operate in an environment they perceive as easy. Shoplifting is a crime of opportunity, remove the opportunity and you reduce the possibility. It is very important that retailers do not allow their shops to be perceived as an easy target.

The following are the most effective measures against shoplifting:

  1. Develop A Shoplifter Awareness Programme
  2. Effective use of Technology
  3. Use Signs
  4. Strategic Merchandising
  5. Policies and Procedures for dealing with Shoplifting

For former staff of the likes of Woolworths, Zavvi, Whittard’s of Chelsea, Envy, MFI, Music Zone and other iconic names that have disappeared from UK retail landscape, shoplifting is not a victimless crime. It can be minimized and prevented.

It would be naïve for anyone to suggest that shoplifting can be completely eliminated.The implementation of the above measure together with retailers wiliness to give the issue the level of prominence it deserves can drastically reduce shoplifting in their stores.

Finally the law enforcement authority needs to treat shoplifting as a serious crime and place it at the top of their agenda on crime prevention. Shoplifting is a broken window that has been left unrepaired for a long time and Organised Retail Theft criminal gangs have moved in. If the law enforcement authority continues to diminish its seriousness, by the time they get around to it, it might already be sponsoring more serious criminal activities including terrorism.

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