Because avoiding shoplifted shrink has everything to do with deterrence and virtually nothing to do with recovery of merchandise once it’s been lifted, spotting shoplifters before they act is critical. Once a shoplifter is spotted, some quality customer service will usually be all the deterrence that is necessary and will avoid any unnecessary drama. The trick, of course, is being able to accurately spot shoplifters without waiting for them to stuff something up their shirt.
When I first began working in retail management, I was mystified at how the old hands at store management seemed to pick up on who was about to try to shoplift out of a crowded store. They assured me that, within a few months, I’d be picking people left and right. I was skeptical and wondered if perhaps they were simply engaging in profiling based on class, race, age, or some other inappropriate qualification. I’ve since learned that spotting shoplifters has everything to do with body language, comportment, and dress, and nothing to do with inappropriate profiling.
The general behavior of professional shoplifters is markedly different from that of a regular shopper. They will often enter the store walking faster than other customers and will be clearly looking around the store for employees in each aisle as opposed to looking for the merchandise a shopper is looking for. Once they are in front of their targeted area, they will be clearly looking at the merchandise in a different manner than a shopper will. This behavior is difficult to describe verbally, but they appear disinterested in the product themselves as if preoccupied with other matters. All but the best shoplifters are clearly quite nervous with flushed face or halting speech when addressed. Body language that suggests they have merchandise on their person, such as awkward walking or holding a jacket closed, are certainly bad signs, but there’s not to much to do other than asking if you can help them unless you have caught them in the act. Also, many shoplifters work in groups, and one person will play decoy by detaining store staff with product questions while the shoplifters makes off with the merchandise.
The articles of clothing that a customer is wearing and what they are carrying as they enter the store are also signs of a potential problem. The biggest red flag seems to be individuals who are entering the store with open bags from other stores or hand bags that can be easily opened and closed. This is particularly easy to spot if you are working in a store that does not have much pedestrian traffic, as many people would leave shopping bags and day bags in their vehicle, other than a purse. If the person exhibits any other warning signs, such as nervous gait or the other behaviors that we’ve discussed, it’s a good idea to at least go over and provide some customer service. Other warning signs are bulky clothing or unnecessary coats and jackets. Perhaps the most problematic vehicle for shoplifting comes in the form of baby carriages. Many mothers use part of the carriage as a shopping cart as they shop, and some professional shoplifters take advantage of this by loading up the cart and only paying
Although this should go without saying, it is the role of the manager to avoid the temptation to play super cop in his or her store. Although saying hello and keeping an extra eye on suspicious behavior is critical, it’s important to understand that not all suspicious behavior is a sign of a potential problem. Some customers are just nervous people who are awkward in public places, and being a pedestrian who needs to carry baggage with them is not a crime. By and large, providing good customer service to every customer on the sales floor will avoid the vast majority of shoplifting and let the professionals know that they’ll need to look elsewhere for a quick buck.