How to Spot a Shoplifter

How to Spot a Shoplifter

Thieves come in all shapes and sizes. All kinds of people can turn out to be shoplifters, from a suburban mom with her baby to an A-list celebrity, or more often than you’d like to believe, your own staff. How shoplifters are caught and brought to justice will depend on you and your local laws, but what remains constant is the inevitable possibility of shrinkage due to theft.

There are lots of ways to prevent your merchandise from being stolen by employees and shoplifters. Here are a few things to look for when watching out for thieves, and preventing theft from making a significant dent in your inventory.


Some telltale signs of a shoplifter

While one shouldn’t be overly suspicious of every shopper (at the risk of making people feel uncomfortable!) employees should still be aware of some key signs to help them identify someone who might be shoplifting. Some of the more obvious ones are:

  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Seeming to be watching the staff more closely than the merchandise
  • Lurking in corners where they’re not easily seen
  • Wearing big, oversized coats and clothing

While it’s good to know the basics and have a watchful eye, never underestimate how wily shoplifters can be; some of them are professionals. Here are a few of their more devious tricks:

  • Razor blades: some shoplifters carry thin, sharp blades such as box cutters, using them to remove alarm tags once they’re safely in the changing room.
  • Speaking of changing rooms, this is where they seek shelter to stash smuggled merchandise into their own bags.
  • Traveling in packs: entering a store as a boisterous group is one of the easiest ways to distract staff.
  • Large shopping bags: some shoplifters carry shopping bags from luxury stores to appear as though they plan on spending big. These bags might be empty, so watch them carefully.
  • Working in pairs: Thieves often work in pairs — one distracts staff and passes items discretely to their partner in a changing room. They might enter the stores as friends, or even enter separately.
  • Booster bags: Lining a bag with tin foil prevents alarm tags from setting off the detectors around the store exists. It’s an easy way for thieves to quickly load up on merchandise and leave the shop undetected.

Woman shoplifting

A few tips to prevent theft

When it comes to deterring shoplifters, there are several things you can do. Having visible signage such as “shoplifters will be prosecuted” is one way, but it might be a little unfriendly and off-putting for the general store environment. Having visible cameras, even if they aren’t functioning, might be a more discrete signal, one that most shoplifters will notice.

The layout of your store can also help reduce theft. For example, you can lock expensive items in a case, and keep vulnerable, easy-to-steal merchandise near the cash. Office supply retail giant Staples suggests creating maximum merchandise visibility by arranging the lower displays near the cash and taller displays around the perimeter of the store. Placing the cash register near the exit is also a deterrent since customers must pass by it on their way out (the cash area should always be manned).

retail pos


Inside jobs

Internal theft can potentially be a huge problem for any business. Choosing employees with good referrals is only the first step to preventing loss. Doing routine inventory counts can help you determine if there is any shrinkage, as well as signal to your employees that you’re on top of what’s going on in the store. lists several key ways to prevent internal theft such as:

  • Rotating employee shifts to make sure your staff doesn’t always work in the same teams.
  • Ensuring proper methods of balancing the cash after each shift.
  • Auditing sales by contacting customers about the detail of the sale as a form of customer service.

Most importantly, owners should stop by the store at unpredictable times, as people looking to steal will wait for periods when no one can see what they’re up to.

The motivations behind stealing make up a vast kaleidoscope of variables that depend on the individual. How to stay on top of new or popular shoplifting methods? You can keep up-to-date with the advice people seem to like to share online, such as this tongue-in-cheek writer did for Huffington Post. With a good security strategy and a staff that has been trained to deter shoplifters, you should be able to keep shrinkage to a minimum.

Protect your store from theft

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