The Silent Crime

By Hannah Wallace November 30, 2005

Daniel Doyle wants people to know one thing: Shoplifting is no harmless prank. As newly appointed chairman of the National Retail Federation Loss Prevention Council, Doyle says shoplifting is becoming more organized and expensive, totaling $31 billion every year. "It is a monster number," says Doyle, who is also vice president of loss prevention and human resource administration for Bealls.

How can retailers prevent theft and loss? Educating all employees on how shoplifting works. Employees steal more than customers: $14.6 billion in annual employee theft and $10.5 billion in shoplifting [by customers]. Although the balance is changing, employee theft accounts for 47 percent of losses in retail.

Use good bookkeeping procedures, separation of duties, good ethics programs and pre-employment background checks. Train all employees on loss prevention, how to respond to theft situations.

Are there any new technologies in the field? Of most use are computer monitoring systems that take data at the point of sale-refunds, voids, sales-and look for patterns or exceptions that might be dishonest. CCTV [closed-circuit TV] is also evolving rapidly with digital video recording and remote monitoring. Now we can view all stores from the corporate office, record it all digitally and keep greater amounts of video than before, when we used VCRs and videotapes.

Manufacturers are joining with retailers to incorporate anti-theft tags into the product; in many cases, the retailer is insisting it be there before buying. We are also trying to get law enforcement and legislators involved. One of the cool things that is happening is that we are developing a database called RLPIN that will ultimately give retailers the ability to put all data concerning theft into a database that can be shared with law enforcement.

Which are the most commonly stolen items? Things that can be turned around on the street: young men's and women's merchandise, street wear, athletic shoes, jewelry. Specialty retailers, especially apparel, have the highest rates of theft. The smaller the store, the more employees you have, the more you can control it. Christmas season is the busiest. We find that that's when we catch the most amateur shoplifters. Professional shoplifters know any time is good, and prefer to do it when the store is not busy.

What does the typical shoplifter look like? We see every age, gender, race. We train people to look for behavior as opposed to looking for the "typical shoplifter"-that animal does not exist. In Florida, you see a fair amount of elderly shoplifting. People want to think shoplifting is a teen-age prank, but it's not.

What might surprise the public about loss prevention? Shrink [loss from theft] costs people almost as much as all the auto theft in the United States every year. People like to decriminalize shoplifting; they say it's not that big of a deal. But consumers pay a price. The cost is $400 to $600 per household every year to pay for the cost of retail theft. If you were to get taxed an additional $400 to $600 a year, you'd be outraged.

The other is that shoplifting is now organized retail crime. Gangs go from retailer to retailer, selling stolen goods on the black market or to other retailers.

Do retailers really deploy cameras in changing rooms? It's some sort of urban legend, not anything that a retailer of any integrity would consider. Customer privacy is very important to us.

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