Shoplifting Research Paper

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Shoplifting refers to the theft of retail merchandise during hours of operation (Clarke 2003; Hayes and Cardone 2006). This form of larceny is viewed as a minor offense that does not generate significant public outrage or fear. Furthermore, it lacks the sensational appeal that necessitates extensive media coverage or immediate legislative responses (Cromwell et al. 2006; Klemke 1992). Notwithstanding these perceptions, retail theft imposes significant financial and social harms. Each year, shoplifting costs companies billions of dollars in lost revenues or merchandise. Beyond these losses, however, retail theft entails additional financial costs. Companies allocate millions of dollars each year for security personnel and measures to help deter shoplifting (Tonglet 2002; Gills et al. 1999; Cox et al. 1993). In some cases, retailers pay higher insurance premiums because they experience high rates of theft (Burrows 1998; Finklea 2011). Shoplifting can also adversely affect honest patrons. To offset financial losses, companies levy a “consumer tax” in which merchandise prices of commonly pilfered items are substantially increased (Cox et al. 1993; Schwartz and Wood 1991). Customers can also be inconvenienced by cumbersome security measures such as cable locks, key controlled glass cabinets, or other equipment that limits accessibility to merchandise (Tonglet 2002; Cox et al. 1993; Dawson 1993). Finally, state governments and local communities lose tax revenues that could be generated from stolen merchandise.

Beyond the financial tolls, shoplifting can prompt safety and domestic security problems. Unsuspecting customers or employees can be injured by fleeing or aggressive shoplifters attempting to avoid apprehension (Axelrod and Elkind 1976). A 2011 survey found that 13 % of retail crime apprehensions involved some level of physical assault or battery (National Retail Foundation 2011). When perishable goods such as infant formula and over-the-counter drugs are shoplifted, fraudulently repackaged, and sold on the open market, customers can unknowingly consume outdated or spoiled products (Finklea 2011; National Retail Foundation 2011). Finally, shoplifting by professional or organized retail theft (ORT) rings has been linked to money laundering, organized criminal syndicates, and the funding of terrorist activity (National Retail Federation 2011; Finklea 2011).

This research paper provides a general overview of shoplifting. Specifically, it discusses the financial losses associated with shoplifting and how these figures likely underestimate the true costs of shoplifting. Next, a typology of shoplifters will be offered with primary attention given to amateur and professional shoplifters. A discussion of common shoplifting targets and techniques will follow as well as an examination of the theoretical explanations used to help understand why offenders engage in shoplifting. Finally, this research paper will review common antishoplifting measures utilized within the retail industry and summarize their effectiveness.

Financial Estimates Of Shoplifting

No other property crime including robbery, burglary, or auto theft can match the financial impact of shoplifting. Estimates have consistently shown that retailers lose anywhere between $10 and $50 billion dollars annually to shoplifting (National Association for Shoplifting Prevention 2012; National Retail Foundation 2011; Centre for Retail Research 2011; Clarke 2003). A recent study found that shoplifting cost US retailers approximately $12.1 billion (National Retail Federation 2011). In 2010, a global retail theft survey discovered that shoplifting incidents cost 1,187 retailers representing 43 countries $51.5 billion (Centre for Retail Research 2011). While the financial costs attributed to shoplifting are staggering, it is generally understood that these figures grossly underestimate the true extent of the problem (Burrows 1999; Dabney et al. 2004; Clarke 2003).

Dilemmas Associated With Shoplifting Estimates

Underreporting is a major problem associated with shoplifting data as only one-third of all thefts get reported to the police (Dabney et al. 2004; Clarke 2003). When shoplifting is officially reported, few incidents result in a formal record or prosecution (Klemke 1992; Dabney et al. 2004; Clarke 2003). Instead, law enforcement is more inclined to issue a warning or have the charges downgraded to a misdemeanor or violation offense (Dabney et al. 2004; Clarke 2003). Many retail companies are reluctant to formally report shoplifting and thus contribute to underreporting dilemmas (Burrows 1999). Part of the hesitancy may stem from legal obstacles. Stores may be unaware of shoplifting statutes, or they may be dissatisfied with the weak laws or outcomes that insufficiently punish offenders (Axelrod and Elkind 1976; Burrows 1999). In lieu of formal responses, companies more commonly seek civil restitution from the offenders. Companies may also be reticent about disclosing adverse shoplifting information (Burrows 1999). Publicity about shoplifting could alert potential offenders about a store’s security vulnerabilities, alarm shareholders about potential crime problems, or signal that costly security measures are ineffective (Burrows 1999; Axelrod and Elkind 1976). Even if retailers suspect customers of shoplifting, they are apprehensive about accosting them because of a fear of litigation resulting from false arrest or imprisonment (Axelrod and Elkind 1976). Some stores are equally worried about the risk of embarrassment and loss of reputation that false arrests could yield. Collectively, there appears to be reluctance to report, classify, or respond to shoplifting as a serious felony offense.

Beyond underreporting dilemmas, sources of shoplifting information including police records, victimization or self-report surveys, and industry level data are problematic because they fail to directly measure shoplifting (Burrows 1998). For instance, shoplifting is coalesced into the larger category of larceny-theft in the Uniform Crime Report, and therefore, it is impossible to discern what percentage of thefts can be attributed to shoplifting. The National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) neglects shoplifting altogether since it focuses on individual victimization, not crimes committed against organizations (Burrows 1998). Store-generated data suffers similar measurement limitations. Since only a small percentage of offenders are detected at the time of the offense, store security managers or personnel must “guesstimate” what percentage of loss can be directly attributed to shoplifting (Dabney et al. 2004). Through the use of routine audits, companies measure the disparity between merchandise physically present in a particular store and financial statements regarding sold merchandise (DiLonardo 1997). Such audits determine levels of inventory shrinkage or shortages in inventory levels. The greater the amount of unaccounted merchandise, the more revenue lost. With the exception of employee theft, shoplifting is generally considered the second most common source of inventory loss (Hayes and Cardone 2006). In most cases, estimates maintain that roughly 33–43 % of all retail losses are caused by shoplifting (National Retail Foundation 2011; Centre for Retail Research 2011). Nevertheless, without direct observation, it is not feasible to parse out what percentage of inventory shrink is actually shoplifting related (Dabney et al. 2004). Indeed, a study relying on surveillance cameras observed more shoplifting incidents than were formally reported to law enforcement (Dabney et al. 2004). The authors concluded that shoplifting incidents from a single retail drug store approximated the total number of all larceny-theft cases reported to police in the metropolitan Atlanta area over the course of 1 year. Such findings call into question the reliability and validity of both formal and store-generated estimates regarding the prevalence and financial impact of shoplifting (Dabney et al. 2004).

Shoplifting Typology

Research has consistently identified two categories of shoplifting offenders: (a) amateur or opportunistic shoplifters and (b) professional shoplifters that generally operate as part of an organized retail crime (ORC) ring (Clarke 2003). To a lesser extent, studies have also acknowledged the existence of compulsive shoplifters known as kleptomaniacs (Blanco et al. 2008).

Amateur Shoplifters

The majority of shoplifters are considered amateurs who steal relatively inexpensive merchandise for the purpose of personal use or consumption (Cameron 1964; Cox et al. 1990; Clarke 2003). In many cases, amateur shoplifters lack a clear motive for stealing as many offenders possess the resources to legitimately purchase merchandise or they may not have an immediate need or desire for the products they steal. Accordingly, amateur shoplifting is typically viewed as an opportunistic crime in which offenders steal goods when they perceive relatively easy opportunities to do so. Some amateurs envision shoplifting more as a challenge and thus steal to see if they can get away with it. Amateur shoplifting also tends to be impulsive and infrequent. Their acts of theft are generally unplanned, and many steal only a few times a year (Cameron 1964). Overall, amateurs are not committed to a criminal lifestyle (Cameron 1964; Clarke 2003). Formal detection or apprehension is generally enough to deter future offending (Cameron 1964).

Amateur shoplifting is not confined to a small subgroup of offenders (Cox et al. 1990). Instead, a sizeable number of people have shoplifted at some point in their life (Cameron 1964; Cromwell and Thurman 2003). According to the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention (2012), an estimated 1 out 11 people or 27 million people have shoplifted. Not surprisingly, there is not a prototypical profile of a shoplifter. Amateur shoplifters are a demographically diverse group. Various studies have concluded that men and women are equally likely to steal as are young and old and people of various ethnic backgrounds and social classes (Klemke 1992; Dabney et al. 2004; Blanco et al. 2008; Asquith and Bristow 2000; Dawson 1993; Tonglet 2002; Cromwell and Thurman 2003; Cromwell et al. 2006). While the influence of demographic characteristics has been inconclusive, behavioral clues may be stronger predictors of shoplifting. Shoppers who leave a store without purchasing an item, scan the store for security measures, or tamper with products are more likely to steal (Dabney et al. 2004).

Organized Retail Crime (Orc): Professional Shoplifting

Unlike amateurs, professional shoplifters are more inclined to steal merchandise for the purposes of reselling stolen goods for a profit (Cameron 1964; National Retail Federation 2011; Finklea 2011). This category of shoplifters tends to be more organized and skilled, steal merchandise more frequently, and target more expensive items. It is estimated that roughly one-quarter of shoplifting cases are committed by professional shoplifters (Finklea 2011). Professional thefts are generally part of a larger criminal network known as organized retail crime (ORC). At its core, ORC networks involve a relationship between boosters and fences. Boosters steal merchandise and sell these goods to fences for approximately 10–30 % of the retail value of a stolen product (Cameron 1964; Finklea 2011). For their part, fences purchase, conceal, or transport stolen merchandise. Fences use a variety of business such as small “mom and pop” community establishments, pawn shops, flea markets or swap meets, convenience stores, and online auctions to dispose stolen goods (Cromwell and Olson 2006; Finklea 2011). In some cases, the fences may represent organized crime or terrorist operations. Fences typically supply boosters with “fence sheets” that specify desired merchandise, the value or profit margin for stolen goods, and stores that commonly carry preferred items (Cromwell and Olson 2006). Some midor higher-level fences ostensibly operate legitimate warehouses that in reality remove security tags, store labels, repackage goods, or alter expiration dates from stolen merchandise (Finklea 2011; Cromwell and Olson 2006). The “cleaned” stolen goods are amalgamated with legitimately purchased merchandise and reintroduced on the open market. In addition to professional fences, there is the existence of part-time fences who occasionally buy stolen merchandise primarily for personal consumption. In other instances, barters exchange professional services or drugs for stolen merchandise. These nonprofessional fences do not purchase a high volume of stolen merchandise nor do they rely on fencing as their primary source of income (Cromwell and Olson 2006). The advent of online internet auction sites such as eBay has created another outlet for professional shoplifters to dispose stolen goods. Known as e-fencing, this form of disposing stolen merchandise is potentially more lucrative as professional shoplifters can earn approximately 70 cents on the dollar for stolen goods (Finklea 2011).


While amateurs and professionals are the ubiquitous shoplifters, there is a smaller category of offenders known as kleptomaniacs who are unable to resist the temptation to steal and generally steal items they do not have a conceivable use for (Blanco et al. 2008). Historically, the term kleptomaniac was used to describe females who had an uncontrollable urge to pilfer (Hayes and Cardone 2006). More recently, kleptomania is considered a psychological disorder in which a person experiences intense feeling of anxiety prior to stealing and a sense of gratification or release after stealing (Blanco et al. 2008). It is generally believed that kleptomaniacs also suffer from other psychological disorders such as impulsivity, mood disorders, or obsessive-compulsive behaviors that compel them to steal.

Common Shoplifting Targets And Techniques

Common Shoplifting Targets

A general sample of items generally shoplifted include but are not limited to music, games, electronics, apparel, batteries, tobacco products, infant formula, and over-the-counter (OTC) medicines (Clarke 1999; Clarke 2003; Hayes and Cardone 2006; Finklea 2011). Clarke’s (1999) CRAVED model focuses on six attributes that make certain targets vulnerable. In particular, items that are concealable, removable, available, valuable, enjoyable, and disposable are deemed hot products. On the whole, shoplifters commonly target merchandise that can be easily concealed and avoid stealing merchandise in large quantities or items too large to conceal for fear of attracting too much attention (Carroll and Weaver 1986). Both amateur and professional shoplifters will target widely available merchandise especially new attractive products such as cell phones, computers, video games, and apparel. While professional shoplifters typically steal merchandise that will garner greater profit margins, novices including adolescent offenders may be driven to steal merchandise that holds personal worth or cultural value. Finally, the CRAVED model predicts that shoplifters, particularly professional shoplifters, are more inclined to steal merchandise that is easy to sell or convert into cash.

Common Shoplifting Techniques

In its simplest form, shoplifting involves the illegal concealment of merchandise in one’s clothing or hand. While some brazen shoplifters may simply grab goods and leave the store quickly, both amateur and professional shoplifters utilize a variety of methods to illegally pilfer retail merchandise. Research has noted that many shoplifters work in teams with some members serving as lookouts to alert the thieves about potential dangers (Hayes and Cardone 2006). Listed below are select shoplifting techniques commonly identified by researchers and practitioners (Hayes and Cardone 2006; Clarke 2003; Finklea 2011; DiLonardo 1997):

  • Booster boxes or bags: Shoplifters use a special foil-lined dummy box or bag that has false bottoms or openings to hide stolen merchandise. The foil lining is designed to weaken electronic article surveillance (EAS) tag signals so that they do not activate or trigger the alarm upon departure from a store. In other situations, shoplifters will conceal stolen goods within a legitimately purchased boxes or bags including televisions boxes, computer boxes, sporting goods merchandise, suitcases, dog food bags, or safes.
  • Diversions: Working in groups, one or more shoplifters will create some type of diversion (pretending to slip and fall, faking an illness or injury, dropping or breaking merchandise, knocking down a display cabinet or shelve, or triggering a fire alarm). While store employees are distracted, other shoplifters will steal merchandise.
  • Fitting room: Shoplifters will take several items or garments into a fitting room where they will wear the stolen clothing or conceal items in a bag or purse.
  • Clothing or crotch-walking This shoplifting method occurs when an offender wears large baggy clothing to hide merchandise. In some cases, shoplifters wear special clothing (i.e., coats, shirts, pants) that contains multiple hidden pockets to help conceal merchandise. Some female offenders will wear large maternity clothing to give the appearance of being pregnant while concealing merchandise.
  • Receipt manipulation: In some instances, shoplifters will make a legitimate purchase and take the item to their vehicle. Thereafter, they will return to the store and steal the same item listed on the receipt. If stopped by employees or store detectives, the shoplifter can present the receipt as proof of a legitimate purchase. Days later, the shoplifter may return the legitimately purchased item for a full refund. In other cases, shoplifters may use discarded receipts found in the parking lot, trash bins, or store floor to steal the items listed on the receipt. The disposed receipts can also be used for refund purposes. The shoplifter may pick up the items listed on the dispensed receipt and seek a cash refund.
  • Smash and grab: This form of theft occurs when a group of shoplifters typically steal a car or sports utility vehicle (SUV) and drive it through a storefront window. Once the vehicle has smashed through the store, shoplifters quickly grab and pack the car with as much merchandise as possible before driving away.
  • Price tag switching: This refers to the fraudulent removal of price tags or bar codes from expensive merchandise and replacing them with cheaper price codes.

Theories Of Shoplifting

Empirical studies have concluded that there is not a solitary factor that causes a person to engage in shoplifting (Cromwell et al. 2006; Tonglet 2002). Instead, shoplifting behaviors are shaped by a range of factors. Many view shopping as a crime of opportunity, while other perspectives assert that offenders view shoplifting as a trivial offense that does not cause harm. Some frameworks maintain that shoplifting is related to age-specific factors. Finally, research has argued that psychological needs or disorders may be a determinant of shoplifting behaviors.

Opportunity Perspectives

Some of the prevailing theories of shoplifting including routine activity theory (RAT) and opportunity structure for crime can be classified as theories of opportunity. Partially rooted in rational choice principles, these opportunity theories assert that would-be offenders take advantage of perceived easy opportunities to offend after careful consideration of the potential risks and rewards associated with a particular act (Clarke 1997). Opportunity theories also focus on the importance of the crime setting (Clarke 2003). In the context of shoplifting, opportunity theories are interested in understanding how the retail environment contributes to the prevalence of shoplifting. Shoplifters will seek stores with weak or ineffective security measures because they believe the benefits of shoplifting (procuring something for free) outweigh the risk of apprehension (Gills et al. 1999). Indeed, many shoplifters perceive retail pilfering as a low-risk offense that requires minimal effort, abundance of opportunities, and substantial gains (Tonglet 2002).

Routine activity theory maintains that crime occurs when a motivated offender comes into contact with suitable targets in the absence of capable guardianship (Cohen and Felson 1979). The convergence of these three factors in time and space represents a crime triangle. Routine activity theory is ideally suited for understanding shoplifting. Retail environments bring potential motivated offenders into contact with suitable targets including small, portable, and desirable goods that can be easily concealed. To the extent that retail environments lack adequate surveillance or security measures, motivated offenders will take advantage of the lack of guardianship and shoplift valuable targets.

Touted as an integrated theory that incorporates elements of environmental criminology, rational choice, lifestyle, and routine activity theory, Clarke’s (1997) opportunity structure theory asserts that the physical environment influences opportunities for crime. Immediate situational or environmental factors dictate the supply of targets (objects), victims (vulnerable individuals), and crime facilitators (weapons) necessary for offending. To this end, retail environments play an important role in creating or reducing shoplifting opportunities. Through personal experiences, peer associations, or the media, would-be offenders learn the risks, effort, and rewards associated with specific stores, and they will target those with the greatest vulnerabilities or relatively easy opportunities to steal. In this context, retailers must manipulate the environment and implement target-hardening devices to decrease opportunities for offending. Research indicates that shoplifters do in fact evaluate store characteristics when deciding whether or not to steal (Carroll and Weaver 1986). In particular, experienced shoplifters assess store layouts for security devices, counter heights, or behavior of store staff in order to identify potential risks. The presence of these factors is enough to deter most expert shoplifters.

Techniques Of Neutralization

Another explanation for why people shoplift is techniques of neutralization theory (Sykes and Matza 1957). This perspective asserts that most offenders hold conventional norms or attitudes, and they must rely on rationalizations to help neutralize the guilt and shame associated with offending. Potential offenders use a priori excuses that allow them to drift into criminality while temporarily suspending their moral convictions. In its original conception, Sykes and Matza (1957) identified five different techniques of neutralization that offenders use to justify criminal behavior including denial of responsibility (offending is beyond person’s control), denial of injury (offending behavior is trivial and does not really harm anyone), denial of victim (victim deserved to have a crime committed against them), condemnation of the condemners (if authority figures engage in unethical behaviors with impunity, then others should be allowed to engage in similar acts), and appeal to higher loyalties (commitment to peers or peer pressure caused offending behavior). Recent research has identified at least seven other neutralizations including defense of necessity (offending is a matter of survival for basic or essential needs), metaphor of the ledger (crime offsets unfair conditions or can settle a grievance), everyone else is doing it (certain crimes are common), denial of the necessity of the law (laws are unfair), and sense of entitlement (offender should enjoy certain privileges) (Cromwell and Thurman 2003).

Studies have found that shoplifters typically use one or more justifications to help neutralize their illegal pilfering (Tonglet 2002; Cromwell and Thurman 2003; Clarke 2003). Many offenders hold proshoplifting attitudes and perceive pilfering as a relatively trivial offense that does not significantly harm the overall sustainability of profitable retailers (denial of injury). Some shoplifters imply that they had little control over their actions (Cromwell and Thurman 2003). This denial of responsibility neutralization would be consistent with shoplifters who suffer some psychological compulsion or addictive behavior to engage in theft. In other instances, offender attitudes are congruent with a denial of victim perspective. Many people view large organizations as wealthy and somewhat ruthless entities (Schwartz and Wood 1991; Clarke 2003; Dawson 1993). Accordingly, shoplifters are less likely to experience feeling of guilt, remorse, or shame about stealing from impersonal stores. Such antagonistic attitudes about retailers may also reflect a metaphor of the ledger justification in which they view shoplifting as a sense of entitlement or compensation for unfair treatment or price markups by indifferent companies (Schwartz and Wood 1991). Other shoplifters may utilize a defense of necessity justification in which offenders assert they had to steal in order to survive or because they did not possess the resources to make a legitimate purchase (Cox et al. 1990; Cox et al. 1993; Cromwell and Thurman 2003). A recent study identified two other neutralizations including justification by comparison and postponement (Cromwell and Thurman 2003). Offenders using the former rationalization maintain that if they were not shoplifting, they would be committing more serious offenses, while those exploiting the latter neutralization momentarily delay any thoughts about the offending behaviors. In essence, people that use postponement do not think about their crime.

Age-Specific Reasons

Motivations to shoplift can also be age specific. Studies of juvenile shoplifters have discovered that adolescents steal for thrill or novelty reasons (Cox et al. 1990; Cox et al. 1993). In addition, social desirability is a motivation for adolescent shoplifters. Juveniles steal popular merchandise including electronics or clothing in order to enhance their status among peers. In some cases, juveniles steal items that they are too young to legally purchase or too embarrassed to buy such as cigarettes, alcohol, or condoms (Cox et al. 1990). Interestingly, there is little evidence to suggest that juvenile shoplifters are directly affected by peer pressure, dares, or status attainment (Cox et al. 1993). There is also evidence that juvenile shoplifters may not be deterred by antishoplifting security measures or formal apprehension (Klemke 1992). Apprehension by parents, store personnel, or the police can actually increase the likelihood of future shoplifting for adolescent shoplifters presumably because deviant labels propel the offender, particularly female shoplifters, to commit future acts of pilfering (Klemke 1992).

Psychological Factors

Some argue that shoplifting represents coping mechanism to address stressful life events or psychological problems including depression, anxiety, bulimia, anorexia, substance addiction, financial hardship, or relationship problems (Lamontagne et al. 2000; Blanco et al. 2008; Schwartz and Wood 1991). For instance, bulimics may steal food to address eating disorders, while people who suffer from anorexia may steal clothing or beauty products to enhance their physical appearance (Schwartz and Wood 1991). Stress can also contribute to shoplifting behaviors. There is evidence that people who are experiencing stressful life events like marital problems, employment or financial problems, or health issues shoplift as a coping mechanism (Schwartz and Wood 1991). These psychological perspectives assert that shoplifting generates excitement and produces an adrenaline rush or high that temporarily subdue feelings of anger, frustration, or depression (Blanco et al. 2008). Shoplifters may also suffer some sort of psychiatric disorder generally related to pathological gambling, bipolar disease, nicotine dependency, or alcohol abuse. In support of psychological perspectives, research has noted that shoplifters are indeed more likely to seek mental health treatment compared to nonshoplifters (Blanco et al. 2008).

Common Antishoplifting Measures And Their Effectiveness

In accordance with the basic tenets of opportunity theories, many antishoplifting measures focus on manipulation of retail environment or target-hardening measures. Clarke’s (1997) situational crime prevention model proposes 16 different techniques designed to make crime opportunities less attractive. The various techniques are designed to (a) increase the effort associated with offending, (b) increase the perceived risks of crime, (c) reduce the anticipated rewards of criminality, and (d) remove the excuses to offend. Some of the crime reducing-measures include target-hardening devices, formal and natural surveillance, access control, entry and exit screening, ink security tags, property identification, and warning signs. Several of these techniques are well established within the retail industry. Stores commonly use target-hardening devices like locks, safes, cabinets, mechanical cables, security tags, or benefit denial tags. Most retailers employ various forms of formal surveillance such as store security officers, employees, closed-circuit televisions (CCTVs), or dressing room attendants. Stores display dummy products or empty boxes as a means of removing the benefits of shoplifting. Finally, companies use warning signs about the prosecution of apprehended offenders or signs that indicate a store is under formal surveillance. Collectively, these security measures emphasize the importance of physical store layout, staff and security personnel, and target-hardening devices that help monitor, detect, and apprehend potential shoplifters.

Physical Store Layout

In many ways, the physical layout of a store can facilitate the commission of shoplifting (Carroll and Weaver 1986; Burrows 1998). Most store layouts openly display merchandise and encourage self-service. In addition, the size of most stores makes it difficult to effectively monitor all merchandise and customers simultaneously. Stores typically have multiple exit points, display merchandise near exits, or have high shelves that obstruct viewing angles. Therefore, retail stores provide easy access to valuable and concealable goods in the absence of effective surveillance (Clarke 2003; Tonglet 2002; Cox et al. 1993).

Accordingly, retailers employ a variety of techniques intended to manipulate the store environment, increase the level of surveillance, and reduce the opportunities to steal. For instance, stores create wide aisles to help alleviate congestion and create clear sight lines for employees to easily monitor customer behavior. Stores use convex mirrors and adequate lighting that enables staff to monitor the store from multiple angles. Merchants commonly monitor entry or exit points with employees, detectives, CCTVs, or audible alarm antennas. Smaller items are placed near checkout counters for increased visibility. Finally, stores like to maintain neatly ordered or arranged shelves so that employees can easily notice irregularities (Clarke 2003). While the presence of various security measures is necessary, retailers face the challenge of balancing a customer-friendly environment with an overly intrusive security atmosphere. The inclusion of too many cumbersome, intrusive, or highly visible crime prevention tools can make legitimate customers feel uncomfortable or alienated (Dawson 1993).

Staff And Security Personnel

Research indicates that employees and security personnel are the most important factor in reducing shoplifting (Gills et al. 1999; Clarke 2003; Hollinger and Dabney 1994; Dawson 1993). When sales associates immediately approach and greet customers, make eye contact with them, or consistently offer assistance, it sends a signal to would-be shoplifters that they have been noticed and are being monitored. Indeed, shoplifters report that they are less likely to steal if they believe they are being closely scrutinized or watched by alert employees or store detectives (Gills et al. 1999). Not surprisingly, shoplifters prefer environments in which workers are disinterested in providing quality customer service. They also prefer stores that are routinely understaffed so that employees are too busy to monitor customer behaviors. Furthermore, stores that have high turnover rates or rely heavily on part-time workers undermine effective shoplifting surveillance efforts (Hollinger and Dabney 1994). In these situations, workers are less committed to the company, lack security training, and have limited experience or awareness of shoplifting clues. To be sure, company commitment to equitable treatment of its employees and low turnovers significantly lower levels of inventory loss (Hollinger and Dabney 1994).

However, misuse or abusive employee surveillance can lead to lawsuits. Since untrained employees may misinterpret customer behaviors, they may inadvertently confront and detain innocent customers (Axelrod and Elkind 1976). In addition, employee racial biases or prejudices can affect surveillance efforts. For example, several retail companies including Eddie Bauer, Lord & Taylor, and The Children’s Place have settled civil suits amid accusations that store security personnel unfairly monitored, accosted, or apprehended ethnic customers. These high-profile cases have drawn attention to a phenomena of consumer racial profiling (CRP) in which employees and store detectives target shoppers, primarily African Americans, on the basis of race and ethnicity, not necessarily suspicious customer behavior (Gabbidon and Higgins 2007; Asquith and Bristow 2000). Several African Americans report that they have been victims of retail racism in terms of poor service, excessive monitoring, or being looked upon with suspicion by employees or security personnel (Gabbidon and Higgins 2007). Such practices overlook white customers who are equally as prone to shoplift as other customers.

Target-Hardening Devices: Electronic Article Surveillance (EAS) Tags

Introduced in the late 1960s, EAS tags are antishoplifting protection systems that have been widely adopted by the apparel, music, and general retail industries. In general, EAS tags are detachable devices affixed or pinned to merchandise that must be removed or deactivated by a sales associate at the time of purchase. Transmitter stands strategically placed near exit doors are designed to trigger an audible or silent alarm if a customer passes through the transmitter with an active EAS tag. Not only do EAS tags provide physical obstacles to shoplifting, they provide a psychological deterrent as potential offenders are reluctant to risk activating an alarm that alerts store security or employees (DiLonardo 1997; Dawson 1993). A multiyear study of several retail apparel stores found that stores that used EAS tags experienced significant declines in inventory shrinkage, while shortages among retailers without EAS tags actually increased by 30 % during the same time period (DiLonardo 1997). Overall, shoplifting and inventory shrinkage rates have been successfully reduced by 35–75 % after the introduction of EAS systems (DiLonardo 1997).

Other studies, however, have found that EAS tags do not deter shoplifters. Many shoplifters note that EAS tags are easy to remove with pliers or other tools (Gills et al. 1999). In some instances, shoplifters are able to use specially designed foiled bags that stunt the ability of transmitters to sound an audible alarm. More brazen shoplifters simply walk out of the store even if the alarm is sounded. The errant functioning of EAS tags can also contribute to their ineffectiveness. Stores that experience a high number of false alarms triggered by system malfunction or sales associates that fail to remove or deactivate sensor tags risk the potential of offending customers and losing their patronage (Dawson 1993). Legitimate customers are likely to feel embarrassed, annoyed, or upset by inadvertent EAS alarms. Perhaps more importantly, customers may be subject to unwarranted suspicion or scrutiny from security personnel and other customers. Beyond the potential of tarnishing a retailer’s image and reputation, false alarms can levy financial costs in the form litigation and punitive damages (Dawson 1993). Another consequence of errant EAS tags is related to the fact that customers, staff, and security may, over time, become desensitized to the alarms.

Despite the best efforts of retailers, evidence suggests few antishoplifting measures including cameras, security tags, mirrors, or prosecution warning signs effectively deter the motivation of pilfers (Gills et al. 1999; DiLonardo 1997). Closed-circuit televisions (CCTVs) are considered ineffective by many shoplifters because they cannot capture quality indisputable images (Gills et al. 1999). Furthermore, shoplifters maintain that most stores have natural blind spots that make it impossible for cameras to monitor. Warning signs that imply all shoplifters will be prosecuted if detected similarly have little impact on the motivation to steal. Shoplifters typically believe the most stores will not go through the trouble of going to court or legal proceeding to recoup relatively inexpensive merchandise (Gills et al. 1999). While some shoplifters acknowledge that ink tags are more challenging to defeat, offenders will still target dye-tagged merchandise primarily because they lack an audible alarm. Once shoplifters effectively remove the merchandise from stores, they have plenty of time to carefully remove the tag (Gills et al. 1999). Even if shoplifters are deterred, the effect is temporary as most will attempt to discover new means to defeat security impediments (Gills et al. 1999). Since the chances of being detected and apprehended are relatively low and the possibility of stiff criminal sanctioning is equally low, shoplifters associate minimal risks with this type of crime and therefore are not easily deterred (Gills et al. 1999; Clarke 2003; Burrows 1988).


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