How You Can Empower Your Employees to Reduce Shoplifting

No shoplifting sign

Training your employees to notice suspicious activity and pay attention to their surroundings is the first step to reduce shoplifting. If your employee is properly trained and knows how to approach a potential shoplifter, then it decrease your inventory shrinkage, aka five finger discount, loot, pinch, etc.  While both internal and external theft challenge businesses regularly, in this article we’ll first focus on some tips to prevent external theft.

If your associate has the right attitude towards the shoplifter, then the shoplifter is more likely to second-guess their decision, put down the item and leave the store.  However, having the right attitude and approach is much easier said than done.

Your employees need to know how to recognize unusual customer behavior.  Here are a few common signs of unusual behavior that often signal shoplifting:

  • Customers tend to mess with the product, but not look at it directly.  Instead, they will peer across the room to see if any eyes or cameras are directly on them.
  • Shoplifters steal from a location that is not easily to seen from where the employees are standing.  Identify these potential “hot spots” for shoplifting in your establishment.
  • Group shoplifters do exist and are the most aggressive category.
    • A group of customers comes in the store, and all but one person will try to get your staff’s attention simultaneously in attempts to overwhelm employees.  One member of the group will remain on their own and steal anything they can.


Second and most challenging, your employees need to know how to engage potential shoplifters.  One of the toughest parts is confronting the customer without directly accusing them of stealing.  We know this approach seems strange and uncomfortable, so let's walk through an example of a potential shoplifter taking a pink scarf at a retail store.  Your employee sees a customer place the pink scarf into their bag when they thought that no one was watching.  It is important to approach the customer in a calm manner before they leave the store.  Now comes the tricky part: letting them know you saw the theft, all without calling them a thief, shoplifter, or bandit.  Some sample statements used in the apparel retail industry include:

  • “Can I grab you a nice blouse for you to try on with that pink scarf? I’d be happy to get a fitting room started for you too.”
  • “Would you like for me to hold that scarf for you at the cash register? That’s one of our best sellers and I wouldn't want you to accidentally put it down and lose it to another customer.”
  • “It seems that the scarf accidentally fell into your bag. Would you like for me to hold that for you until you’re ready to check out?”


That last one is a personal favorite!

Beyond recognizing a shoplifting event is taking place, your employees should know the right approach to prevent the theft.  While these methods can’t guarantee the complete prevention of theft, they can definitely decrease the amount of theft and hint to future shoplifters that there’s not much that gets past your team.  But then again, gravity is a harsh mistress, and you never know when that scarf or bottle of perfume might accidentally fall into grandmother's purse.


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