Shoplifting (also known as commercial burglary) is theft of goods from a retail establishment or money from the cash register, by an ostensible patron. It is one of the most common crimes for police and courts.
Most shoplifters are amateurs; however, there are people and groups who make their living from shoplifting, and they tend to be more skilled. Some individuals shoplift in an effort to resist selling their labor, and/or to protest corporate power. These individuals target—often exclusively—chain stores; Wal-Mart is an especially popular target for political shoplifters in America. Sainsbury's and Tesco are primary targets in the UK (see Evasion).
The costs of shoplifting are not always absorbed by the targeted company, but instead may result in price increases. However, losses from shoplifting, employee burglary and other causes of inventory loss contribute to a not very transparent problem description.
A common slang term for shoplifting in Australia and the United States is "five-finger discount." In the US, it is often referred to as "jacking" or "racking", the UK as "nicking" or "chaving" and in Ireland as "stroking". Professional shoplifters or organized shoplifting groups are often referred to as "boosters."
Economic impact and response from shops
Retailers report that shoplifting has significant effect on their bottom line, stating that about 0.6% of all inventory disappears to shoplifters. In 2001 it was claimed that shoplifting cost US retailers $25 million a day. Other observers, however, believe industry shoplifting numbers to be greatly exaggerated. Studies have found that over half of what is reported as shoplifting is either employee theft or fraud. Of course, in apprehended shoplifting, the merchandise is generally recovered by the retailers and there is often no loss to the store owner when the merchandise is surrendered to the store by the suspects. In addition in many states retailers have the right to recover civil damages to cover the cost of providing security.
Shoplifting is a criminal act of the burglary type and is subject of prosecution.
Rights of store operators
In the state of California, and in most cases the rest of the United States and other countries, store employees and managers have certain powers of arrest. Store officials may detain for investigation (for a reasonable length of time), the person whom they have probable cause to believe is attempting to take or has unlawfully taken merchandise.
Generally, in the United States, the store employees who detain suspects outside of and inside the store premises are allowed by state statute limited powers of arrest and have the power to initiate criminal arrests and/or civil sanctions, or both, depending upon the policy of the retailer and the state statutes governing civil demands and civil recovery for shoplifting as reconciled with the criminal laws of the jurisdiction.
In the state of California, merchants may conduct a limited search to recover the item by those authorized to make the detention. Only packages, shopping bags, handbags or other property in the immediate possession of the person detained may be searched, but not any clothing worn by the person because this would require a search warrant under the law. Licensed security police in the United States can, under the law, ask suspects to voluntarily empty their purses, pockets, wallets, handbags, etc. and most first offenders and amateur shoplifters generally agree to do this when suggested.
Rights of shoplifters
An accused shoplifter has rights that protects him or her from being falsely detained. An accused is subject to many of the same rights as would be present in an arrest from sworn law enforcement, such as the right to remain silent.
Shoplfiting may be prevented and detected. Both options contribute to sound strategies.
Closed circuit television
CCTV monitoring is an important anti-shoplifting technology. Retailers focusing on loss prevention often devote most of their resources to this technology. Using CCTVs to apprehend shoplifters in the act requires full-time human monitoring of the cameras.
Sophisticated CCTV systems discriminate the scenes to detect and segregate suspicious behaviour from numerous screens and to enable automatic alerting. However, the attentiveness of the surveillance personnel may be threatened by false relying on automatics.
CCTV is more effective if used in conjunction with EAS as the EAS system will alert of a potential shoplifter and the video will provide ample proof to prosecute the shoplifter if the shoplifter is allowed to exit past checkout points or store premises with store merchandise that hasn't been paid for at final checkout points.
Electronic article surveillance
Electronic article surveillance (EAS) is second only to CCTV in popularity amongst retailers looking for inventory protection. EAS refers to the security tags that attach to a garment and cause an alarm to sound on exiting the store. Regularly, even when an alarm does sound, a shoplifter walks out casually and is not confronted if no guards are present. This is due to the high number of false alarms, especially in malls, due to "tag pollution" whereby non-deactivated tags from other stores set off the alarm. This can be overcome with newer systems and a properly trained staff. Some new systems either don't alarm from "tag pollution" or they produce a specific alarm when a customer enters the store with a non-deactivated tag so that store personal can remove or deactivate it so it does not produce a false alarm when exiting the store.
Loss prevention personnel will patrol the store acting as if they are real shoppers. They may try on merchandise and browse the racks, all the while looking for signs of shoplifting and looking for possible shoplifters. Many large retail companies utilize this technique, and will watch a shoplifter conceal an item then stop them after they have exited the store. These types of personnel must follow a strict set of rules, however, because of very high liability risks.
The presence of uniformed guards acts as a deterrent to shoplifting activity and they are mostly used by high end retail establishments.
Shoppers in some large stores cannot leave the premises until cart contents are checked against the register tape. In most of the US, shoppers are under no obligation to accede to a search unless the employee has reasonable grounds to suspect shoplifting.
Close customer service
Floor attendants are instructed to greet, follow, and offer help with customer shopping. Shoplifters are not comfortable with this attention and will go somewhere else where they can work unnoticed.
Bottom of basket mirrors are commonly used in grocery stores where the checkout lanes are close together and the cashier might be unable to see the entire basket to ensure payment of all items.
Some merchandise will be in a locked case requiring an employee to get items at a customer's request. The customer is either required to purchase the merchandise immediately or it is left at the checkout area for the customer to purchase when finishing shopping. This prevents the customer from having a chance to conceal the item.
Another way of locking merchandise, especially popular in liquor stores, is to place a secure, store-administered hard-plastic cap on a regular bottle top. Once purchased the clerk will remove the cap with a store key. It is not otherwise easily removable.
Many stores also lock CDs and DVDs in locking cases, which can only be opened by the checkout operator once the item has gone through the checkout.
Some stores will use "Dummy" cases, where the box or case on the shelf is entirely empty and the customer will not be given the item they have paid for until after the transaction has been completed, usually by other Store staff. Some stores have been known to take this idea further by filling the dummy cases or boxes with a weight, similar to the weight of the actual item (usually employing dirt, or stones to achieve the effect).
Personnel policyThe choice of store and security personnel can strongly affect the ability of shoplifters to succeed. All personnel must be trained in the techniques shoplifters use to steal merchandise and the proper actions to take.
Test shopping is a strategy to test the detection means in a shop. Subject of testing is primarily the alertness of surveillance staff and of the staff operating in the shopping areas.
Famous casesA famous legal case involving shoplifting occurred in 2001 when actress Winona Ryder was arrested for shoplifting at Saks Fifth Avenue department store in Beverly Hills, California. Ryder was eventually convicted of misdemeanor theft and vandalism and will be eligible for expungement of the conviction after finishing probation. Ryder was originally convicted by a jury of felony larceny/vandalism and was sentenced in a nationally televised California Superior Court proceeding in December of 2002. In 2003, Will & Grace actress Shelley Morrison (who played Rosario Salazar) was arrested for shoplifting at a Robinsons-May store in California; the charges were later dropped. In early 2006, former White House aide Claude Allen was arrested for an alleged return scam at a Target store in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Jean Eaton, while mayor of Albert Lea, MN, was accused of stealing hundreds of dollars worth of clothing from Marshall Field's stores in Rochester, Edina and St. Cloud in an alleged clothing swap scam. Eaton had claimed that police acted illegally when they executed a search warrant that gathered evidence used to support a felony theft charge against her. Eaton later reached a plea agreement with Olmsted County prosecutors to have the felony charges dropped, by entering into an adult diversion program, which includes restitution, and possible community service.
Motives and reasons behind shoplifting
Some shoplifters (who are almost invariably, and erroneously, labelled as suffering from kleptomania) are persons who clinical investigator Dr. Will Cupchik has labelled 'Atypical Theft Offenders.' These usually honest persons may steal in response to personally meaningful losses and/or other stressors. His book, Why Honest People Shoplift or Commit Other Acts of Theft (2002) provides data and conclusions of two studies conducted by Dr. Cupchik, as well as assessment and treatment methods. The major reasons that these persons should not be labelled as kleptomaniacs are that there are virtually always external triggering events identified as having preceded the theft activity, and because the stealing is virtually always an act of vengeance carried out in anger (although seldom recognized as such by the offender). The existence of an external trigger and the feelings of anger and desire for vengeance are factors that, according to the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, would exclude the diagnosis of 'kleptomania.'
- Steal This Book
- Preventing Shoplifting Without Being Sued
- Why Honest People Shoplift or Commit Other Acts Of Theft
- Shoplifting: Managing the Problem
- Retail Security and Loss Prevention
- The Retailer's Guide to Loss Prevention and Security
- Loss Prevention Guide for Retail Businesses
- Shoplifters vs Retailers: The Rights of Both
- Loss Prevention in the Retail Business