How to Protect Your Store from Shoplifters

Three Methods:Making Changes to Your StoreUtilizing Employees and PersonnelIdentifying and Dealing With Shoplifters

If you're a business owner, you probably worry about preventing theft. As much as you'd like to trust all of your customers, you know that some people will enter your store looking to take advantage of you. While there's no way to guarantee 100% that no one will ever steal from you, there are a number of steps you can take to help deter theft and protect your store's inventory.

Method 1
Making Changes to Your Store

  1. Image titled Protect Your Store from Shoplifters Step 1
    Change the layout of your store. No matter what type of business you run, the layout of your store may be aiding shoplifters right under your nose. Think about the design and layout of your store, including where valuable merchandise is shelved, how your aisles are constructed (if you have aisles), and how traffic moves through the store.[1]
    • Limit entry/exit points in your store. If at all possible, funnel everyone entering or leaving through a single door that passes by the cashier.[2]
    • Aim for an open layout. If your aisles are stacked too high and prevent visibility across the store, a shoplifter will easily be able to slip merchandise into his pocket, under his shirt, or into his bag.
    • If you can't physically change the layout of your store, install surveillance mirrors at the ends of every aisle and/or above each aisle. That way you'll be able to monitor every customer, no matter where they are in the store.
    • Convex mirrors placed in corners and at the ends of aisles are the best way to improve immediate visibility to all parts of the store.[3]
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    Lock valuable merchandise in a cabinet. If you can't rearrange the entire store, one easy way to deter theft is by making valuable items harder to steal. Consider locking them in a merchandise cabinet, storing them behind the register, or both.[4]
    • Make sure the cabinet (or a display case in front of it) still showcases the merchandise that's locked up. You don't want to hide your goods, just prevent them from being stolen.
    • If you can't fit all your valuable merchandise into a cabinet, you should at least lock away the expensive items that can be easily stolen. Anything small, portable, or easily concealable should absolutely be locked away.
    • Limit the number of employees with access to the cabinet's keys.
  3. Image titled Protect Your Store from Shoplifters Step 3
    Place small, easily-stolen items near the register. There's a reason why convenience stores tend to sell small items, like cigarettes, lighters, candy, and prepaid credit cards near the front register. It makes it easier for the employee on duty to watch over those items, and a would-be shoplifter will recognize the situation as such.[5]
  4. Image titled Protect Your Store from Shoplifters Step 4
    Implement anti-theft policies. Though it won't actively stop a shoplifting in progress, anti-theft policies often deter would-be shoplifters from trying in the first place. Make sure your anti-theft policies are clearly displayed at the front entrance so that everyone entering the store will see the notice(s).
    • Prohibit customers from carrying bags through your store. Display a sign that requires customers to check all bags at the front register, and implement that rule consistently.[6]
    • Post a sign at the door warning all customers that you will call the police to report any theft or attempted theft.
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    Use security devices. Security devices are invaluable to have for a number of reasons. A would-be thief may see a surveillance camera and decide not to shoplift. If someone does decide to proceed, an active surveillance system can help you catch shoplifters in the act, and it gives you proof on film that an individual did in fact steal from your store. This can then be handed to the police as evidence if the individual is caught, or to help police look for the thief in the community.
    • Install surveillance cameras, either on closed circuit TV or hooked up to a recording device.
    • Even fake surveillance cameras can help deter theft. A shoplifter won't know that they're not real, and may be frightened out of stealing.[7]
    • Consider using electronic tags on all merchandise (or at least the most valuable merchandise). This can be a burdensome policy to implement since it means tagging and un-tagging every piece of merchandise, but it can help deter thefts.[8]
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    Keep your shelves well-stocked and tight. During a busy day, a store can very easily become messy. Items are sold and the shelves are not restocked, returned or unwanted items are left strewn around the store, and things generally look messy. This leaves your store highly vulnerable, though, as it makes it easier for a shoplifter to take something without it being noticed.[9]
    • If your shelves are stocked and tightly-packed, you'll notice more quickly that something is missing.
    • Keep the shelves and displays tidy. Clutter can distract you from the fact that something is missing or out of place.

Method 2
Utilizing Employees and Personnel

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    Hire and staff enough employees. An understaffed store makes it easy for shoplifters to steal. They know that employees will either be distracted with other customers, or may be confined to a single part of the store. For this reason (and to help your employees get through the work day), it's important to hire enough employees and staff an adequate number of workers at all times.[10]
    • Remember that many shoplifters work in pairs or larger teams. It's not uncommon to have one or two people distract an employee who is understaffed while another person steals as much as he can.[11]
    • There is no concrete number in terms of how many people to hire. You may have to start out with a set number of workers and hire more as needed.
    • You can also talk to other store owners of similar businesses and ask them how many employees they typically have on duty on a given day.
    • Remember to take into account the fact that an employee or two may call in sick or request a day off. You'll want to have enough employees working there that you'll be able to find a replacement for that shift, if need be.
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    Have staff greet customers. When you walk into a store, you may have noticed employees greeting you at the door. Even if there isn't a designated greeter, you've probably had a cashier or employee on the floor say hello and offer assistance if you need it. It may seem like mere pleasantries, but it actually serves a purpose: greeting people as they arrive forces those customers to interact with employees. This practice can help deter theft and allow employees to identify shoplifters who manage to get away.[12]
    • Make sure at least one employee greets every customer who walks through the door.
    • If at all possible, try to have one employee out on the floor during busy rushes. This can help keep an eye on customers who wander through the aisles while the register is busy.
    • Have employees initiate small conversations with customers. Say things like, "Hi, is there anything I can help you with today?" when customers walk in, and "Thank you for coming in today, we hope to see you soon" as people leave.
    • Engaging with customers, even for a brief instant, forces the customer to make eye contact with an employee. You may be able to tell someone is up to no good by the way they act (looking nervous, avoiding eye contact), or simply get a better description to give to the police.
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    Educate employees on theft prevention. No matter how many employees you hire, you should train them all on theft prevention, including the store policies you've implemented. Teach your workers how to spot shoplifters, what type of behavior or red flags to look for, and what to do in case of a theft.[13]
    • Make sure your employees know about any anti-theft policies, like checking bags at the register. Have them enforce those policies 100% of the time.
    • Train your employees on how to prevent theft, as well as what to do in case of theft. Have employees follow store protocol, and encourage them to talk to you about any concerns they have.
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    Consider hiring security. If nothing else has worked, or if you've experienced repeated thefts or robberies, you may want to consider hiring security. Hiring a security guard is a big decision: you'll need to pay that individual, and it may intimidate other customers to come into a store and see a burly, threatening security guard. However, if your business is losing a lot of money due to theft, it may be worth the risks to hire security personnel.
    • Search online or in the phone book to find security services in your area.
    • Check reviews online from other businesses that have contracted out those security companies/guards.
    • If you know other store owners, ask them for references and recommendations on security companies they've worked with in the past.

Method 3
Identifying and Dealing With Shoplifters

  1. Image titled Protect Your Store from Shoplifters Step 11
    Recognize suspicious behavior. No matter what preventative measures you take, there's always a risk that someone might still come into your store and attempt to steal. However, most shoplifters are not professional criminals. They're usually very nervous, sloppy in their methods, and tend to draw attention to themselves.
    • Keep an eye on anyone who spends a lot of time watching the cashier or sales clerk.
    • If you have a dressing room at your store, keep track of who goes in and how much merchandise they take with them. If you have a public rest room, make sure no one takes unpaid merchandise into the rest room with them.
    • If you see someone who looks or acts nervous (avoiding eye contact, picking up random items with no interest, etc.), keep a close eye on that individual. He is probably planning to steal something and is waiting for the right time.
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    Know the tricks they use. Shoplifters are not terribly inventive. They tend to use the same routines in store after store until getting caught. Know what to look for, and keep an eye on suspicious individuals.
    • The most common places shoplifters hide stolen goods are in their own clothing, in a handbag/purse/backpack, in a stroller, inside a folded umbrella, and inside other purchased merchandise.[14]
    • Many shoplifters attempt to do a "false return," in which a thief tries to return a stolen item for a full cash refund. Make sure anyone trying to return an item has a receipt from your store, and don't give money to anyone who may have stollen the item in question.
    • Another common trick is switching the price tags on merchandise. Pay attention to the prices as you cash someone one, and make sure your employees do as well.
  3. Image titled Protect Your Store from Shoplifters Step 13
    Decide whether to confront a shoplifter. The decision to confront a shoplifter is not an easy one to make. As a store owner, you may feel it's your duty to prevent theft and ensure profitable sales. However, you also need to recognize the possibility that a shoplifter may be a threat to your safety or the safety of others.[15]
    • It's important to assess every situation as unique and potentially dangerous. If there is any chance a shoplifter might be armed or dangerous, do not attempt to stop that individual and simply wait for the police.
    • Never put your life, your employees lives, or your other customers' lives at risk. Remember that stolen merchandise is just an object that can be replaced, and is not worth losing a life over.
    • If you decide to confront a shoplifter, be 100% certain that that individual actually stole from the store. Wrongly accusing a customer will make you lose business and could result in a lawsuit.
  4. Image titled Protect Your Store from Shoplifters Step 14
    Call the police. Any time you catch someone shoplifting, or have strong evidence that a person has committed theft, call the police. If you have a security system in place, show the police any video footage you captured of the incident, and cooperate with their requests.
    • Remember that police are trained professionals who are capable of chasing, detaining, searching, and arresting a shoplifter.
    • Do not try to be a hero. If you suspect a theft has taken place and you don't feel safe pursuing the suspect, simply call the police and tell them everything that happened.


  • When you spot someone shoplifting, do not make it too obvious that you have caught them until it is time for apprehension.
  • Make sure you have witnesses from the moment you apprehend a shoplifter until the police arrive. That way other people can back up your story in case the shoplifter contests what happened.
  • Don't be afraid to jump to conclusions. When it's a serious crime, it's okay to make assumptions. Quietly pull the person aside, though, and don't make a big deal about it until you're absolutely certain someone has stolen.


  • Don't endanger other customers or employees in catching shoplifters. If it comes down to it, it is better to let someone get away with $300 worth of merchandise than to face a $100,000 lawsuit for causing someone an injury while you were trying to catch the shoplifter.
  • It is illegal to have security cameras in restrooms in all 50 states.
  • Don't be so overzealous in prosecuting shoplifters that you scare off regular customers from shopping at your store.
  • In many parts of the United States it is a violation of state law to have security cameras in dressing rooms, though some exceptions do exist. Check online to see if your state allows dressing room surveillance.
  • Do not assault someone, even in the name of preventing a shoplifter from getting out with merchandise. You could be sued or face criminal charges yourself.

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Categories: Sales