Shoplifting Policies and Procedures for Retailers

Shoplifter stealing denim jeans in his jacket
••• iggy1965 / Getty Images

According to the National Association of Shoplifting Prevention (NASP), 1 in every 11 people in the US is a shoplifter. And there is no profile for you to follow as men and women, old and young, all commit this crime equally. It is important to create policies and procedures for shoplifting in your retail store. While we all hope it will never happen in our stores, the statistics say it probably will. And in the event it does, retailers and staff should be prepared to handle the shoplifting situation.

Take the following questions into consideration when writing your shoplifting policies and procedures:

  • Is your goal to prosecute or get the merchandise back?
  • Does your store have a zero-tolerance policy for shoplifting?
  • Will you prosecute shoplifters under 18 or over 65?
  • Is there a minimum dollar amount before prosecuting?
  • How will you confront and detain the shoplifter?
  • What will you do if the shoplifter shows remorse or offers to pay?
  • Who is responsible for calling the police?

Consider a shoplifting policy that is fair but firm. If your store chooses not to prosecute shoplifters, word will get around, and your store may become a target. If shoplifters know your store takes theft seriously and is not afraid to prosecute, many thieves will avoid stealing from your business.

Stopping a Shoplifter

Store design, customer service techniques, and technology go a long way in preventing shoplifting. Post signs saying that shoplifters will be prosecuted if that is the store's position on shoplifting. If you see someone take an item, alert another employee about the theft so they can monitor your interaction and then approach the person. Ask "Can I ring that up for you?" Never confront a shoplifter in an accusatory tone. For example, never say "I saw you steal that necklace." Shoplifters are very skilled at getting around the accuser.

But, if you simply act like they put the necklace in their pocket to carry until the pay for it, one of two things will happen. They will either put it back or pay for it.

Store design has a lot to do with shoplifting. Too many stores create blind spots that employees cannot manage or watch. Cameras in a store will help deter the casual shoplifter, but not the professional one. Stand at your cash wrap and survey the store. Are there areas you cannot see? Recently, I was in a store to help them control their inventory shrinkage. As I stood in the store, what I noticed was that the shelving was so high, I could not see through the store. There was plenty of floor space, so we simply lowered the shelving systems.

It created a clear view of both employees and the customers. The potential shoplifter knew he or she could be seen now. While we implemented some other ideas, this one had the most significant impact on reducing the losses.

Know the Law

Learn your local and state shoplifting laws. Contact the police station, and they should be able to answer any questions you may have.

Laws vary by location, but most places require that one person must see the shoplifter take the item, conceal it and exit the store without paying for the merchandise, all while never taking their eyes off the shoplifter. Only then can that store employee apprehend the shoplifter without force.

When approaching a suspicious person, try to remain calm and professional. It is possible that a misunderstanding has taken place and the person is not a shoplifter. Treating the suspect in a polite, discrete yet firm and professional manner will help you and your store avoid a slander, false arrest, or discrimination lawsuit. In many instances, the shoplifter is a con artist who is trying to get you to confront them and there they can sue you and your store for harassment or discrimination.