Five Steps to Crack Down on Shoplifting

A shoplifting incident
One in every 11 people in the United States is a shoplifter.

If you've been in retailing for more than a few weeks, you know that shoplifting is a fact of life. What you may not know, however, is how widespread shoplifting is and the impact it has on retailers, regardless of their size or what they sell.

To provide some sense of the scope of this problem, consider these statistics. Shoplifting and employee theft costs the U.S. retail industry nearly $48.9 billion a year. The average cost per shoplifting incident is almost $800. And, perhaps most shocking, one in every 11 people in our country is a shoplifter. That translates into approximately 27 million shoplifters nationally.

Some retailers have been unwilling to take action against shoplifters due to a certain level of acceptance that shoplifting is just a part of the cost of doing business, but more and more retailers are fighting back. By employing a combination of good retailing practices, improved staffing policies, technology improvements, and partnerships with law enforcement, these retailers are reducing the opportunity to shoplift. 

With that in mind, here are five steps to help convenience store operators crack down on shoplifting:

1. Improve Store Layout & Displays

Improving store layouts and displays will make it easier for employees to monitor what's happening in the store and what customers are up to. This can be accomplished by reducing the number of exits and blind corners, carefully placing mirrors, and providing good, even lighting. To the extent possible, place goods away from store entrances and create clear sight lines in aisles by eliminating clutter and reducing the height of displays.

2. Upgrade Security Measures

This means more than just hiring security guards. Convenience store operators can also adopt policies that will impact shoplifting, such as restricting the number of unaccompanied minors allowed in the store and requiring proof of purchase for refunds. Encouraging shoppers to use supermarket-style baskets for purchases removes the excuse for putting items in shoppers' own bags. Keeping high-value items in locked displays and sealing the bags of legitimate purchases can reduce impulse theft.       

3. Hire More Better-Trained Staff

This can help to inhibit shoplifting, although it may not be feasible for small store operators. Where possible, though, having more staff available to assist customers means a stronger retailer presence throughout the store and greater opportunities to surveil customers.

Training staff in procedures for dealing with shoplifting incidents can also help sustain a prosecution. For example, because retailers need to prove that stolen goods were not just taken away, but there was intent to avoid payment, trained staffers will know they should wait until suspects have left the store before apprehending them. Otherwise, shoplifters can simply claim they intended to pay before leaving.

4. Use Advanced Technology

Using advanced technology, specifically facial recognition software, has become a viable tool for targeting shoplifters, as costs have dropped and the technology has improved. Using image processing and machine learning algorithms to match a photo of an unidentified person against a database of photos of identified persons who previously have been arrested for shoplifting or other crimes, the software produces a list of possible matches, with each match having a score that indicates the quality or likelihood of a match. The police then use that list to either rule out or further investigate each match, just as they would with any other investigative lead.

Facial recognition software has risen in popularity as shoplifters have become increasingly sophisticated. Professional shoplifters who steal solely for resale or profit now comprise 10 percent of the total dollar losses due to shoplifting. These professionals include hardened criminals who steal as a lifestyle, international shoplifting gangs who steal for profit, and drug addicts who steal to feed their habits. That last group is of particular concern with more than two million Americans now addicted to prescription pain killers and another 600,000 suffering from a substance use disorder involving heroin.

5. Form Partnerships With Law Enforcement

For retailers, this has proven to be a highly effective means of cracking down on shoplifters, particularly in those instances where retailers are dealing with gangs of organized shoplifters. In Boise, Idaho, for example, a partnership of retailers and the police used emails and texts to maintain a regular intelligence flow and respond immediately to in-progress incidents. Many states have an "ORCA," or Organized Retail Crime Alliance, that enables enhanced coordination between retailers and law enforcement.

While these steps won't stop shoplifting, they can go a long way toward helping your store avoid becoming another statistic in the battle to stem this alarming problem.

Nick Coult is senior vice president for law enforcement and public safety at Numerica Corp. He is one of the creators of Lumen, a platform for law enforcement search, analysis, and data sharing. For more information, visit

Editor's note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.