Kevin Ian Schmidt

External Theft: Shoplifting

External theft is the stealing of merchandise, cash, goods, or fraud resulting in loss by shoplifters.  According to the Hayes International Theft Survey, there were 1,014,817 shoplifting apprehensions resulting in a recovery of over $111 Million from the participating 25 retailers in 2009.  This number is actually an increase of 1.0% from last year.

woman in a supermarket stealing a bottle of champagne
woman in a supermarket stealing a bottle of champagne

There are two main classifications of shoplifters: amateurs and professionals.  Most shoplifters fall into the amateur category.  Meaning they usually do not enter a store with the intention to steal.  They see an opportunity to steal an item and take it.  This group is also comprised of the teens under peer pressure to steal, or desire certain items to fit into a group but cannot afford them.  These types of thieves will demonstrate a high level of nervousness and will often be looking over their shoulder or avoid eye contact with associates.  They may also be looking around for security cameras before performing the theft.  These types of shoplifters will most easily be stopped by having an employee presence in the area to offer customer service to them, or even simply applying security tags on items.

The professionals are the one’s who steal for a living.  These thieves are often very confident, have specific items in mind before entering the store, and are fast at performing the theft.  In some cases they can be in and out with thousands of dollars worth of merchandise in under 5 minutes!  These thieves target merchandise that is small, has a high dollar value, and can be easily resold.  Some of the methods they use are box stuffing (placing high value items inside lower valued item box), barcode switching (placing less expensive UPC’s on high priced items), double shopping (purchasing a high dollar item then exiting and re-entering, selecting the same item and exiting a different door showing the original receipt as proof of purchase if questioned), refund fraud, or simply attempting to walk out of the store with the unpaid for merchandise unnoticed.

Preventing External Theft


One of the best ways to deter external theft is providing superior customer service and having departments fully staffed.  Most thieves don’t want to interact with store associates in any way, so offering them assistance will make many decide against it.  Some retailers lock up high theft merchandise and will have an associate unlock and bring the items to the register for a customer when they are ready to purchase.  This can hinder customer service objectives in some ways but is a strong control in preventing theft.  EAS (Electronic Article Surveillance) is also widely used in the retail industry.  This is a method of affixing tags or electronic devices to items which will sound an alarm if taken out of the store before being removed or deactivated at the register by a cashier.

External theft will always be a problem but the goal is to identify where your losses are occurring and to determine ways to prevent further losses.  This could be by apprehending the suspects causing the loss, limiting quantities on the shelf, using EAS tags, dedicated surveillance on specific items, or increasing awareness in the store of high theft items.

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