Shoplifters of the World Unite!
The Smiths’ 1987 song seems to resonate with shoplifters in the 21st century. From organized retail crime syndicates to those who eschew coupons and use the “five-finger discount,” shoplifting is on the rise and retail workers serve on the front line of shrink.
Thieves are more discerning now. They come for athleisure in Atlanta, Georgia, cosmetics in Charleston, South Carolina, tools in Tallahassee, Florida, spirits in Storm Lake, Iowa, and lamb in the “Lou.”
While laundry detergent is among the most stolen items in organized retail crime according to a 2022 survey conducted by the National Retail Federation, many shoplifters specialize in specific SKUs, like winter coats, perfume, or diapers. These stolen goods appear on online marketplaces or on display at local street markets.
To help combat this issue and reduce retail workers having to confront shoplifters, many stores employ “store-to-lot” full coverage security measures, including increased attention to secure parking lots. From mobile camera equipment to secure parking lots to retail-theft devices, retail security systems are going high-tech.
DECREASE EMPLOYEE RISKS BY REDEFINING RESPONSIBILITIES
Video feeds, including top-notch offline security cameras without Wi-Fi or internet, help retailers reduce the risks employees face when confronting shoplifters. And for good reason: Working in retail is one of the highest-risk jobs for workplace violence, according to the CDC.
Despite training employees how to best handle customer interactions, spot potential conflicts, and de-escalate issues, a recent study published in the Journal of Service Research reveals this taxes many employees. Many retail workers do not want policing problem customers added to their list of growing responsibilities—ones that are increasingly forced on them because of labor shortages and fiscal pressure, according to researchers at Florida Atlantic University and three other schools.
“Front-line employees are being asked to do too much, policing the misbehavior and confronting shoplifters, often without extra money or training,” said Melanie Lorenz, Ph.D., an associate professor of marketing in FAU’s College of Business. “As a result, they’re leaving or throwing up their hands and using the old phrase, ‘Not my circus, not my monkeys,’ and that really has a negative impact on companies and the retailing industry as a whole.”
PROTECT PEOPLE OVER PRODUCT
Between increasing responsibilities and the very real potential for violence, it’s common for retailers to prohibit employees from stopping shoplifters. When the CEO of Lululemon came under scrutiny for firing two employees after they attempted to thwart a theft, he reiterated the company’s stance, a “zero-tolerance policy for chasing or physically engaging with suspected robbers.” During an appearance on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street,” Calvin McDonald reiterated that the company handbook documents the appropriate actions to take, stressing they are in place to protect workers and shoppers, which are more important than the products.
This stance is not unique to Lululemon or new to retail. Loss Prevention Magazine found in a 2017 survey of retailers that nearly half had a “no physical touch” policy when confronting thieves. The policy largely has become standard operating procedure since the pandemic.
“Given the state of affairs in many cities, where shoplifting is rampant, many retail employers have prohibited their employees from interacting with thieves with the premise of protecting both employees and customers from potential violence and resulting harm, for which the retailer could be held liable,” Helen Rella, Head of Employment Law at Wilk Auslander, told Entrepreneur.
LET EXPERTS TAKE THE LEAD
Other retail asset protection leaders echo how important it is to protect people over product, and ultimately profit, when it comes to retail security.
“When you have five [thieves] in your store on a mission, it’s five on one,” Joseph Stein, director of asset protection solutions for Walgreens told The New York Post. “And that’s not the responsible thing to do [to try to stop them],” Stein said.
Weeks after a Home Depot security guard was shot to death during an attempted robbery in Pleasanton, California, state lawmakers are considering Senate Bill 553 to stop retailers from “maintaining policies that require employees to confront active shooters or suspected shoplifters.” The bill also outlines set standards for retail worker protection and violence prevention.
“With growing awareness of workplace violence, California needs smarter guidelines to keep workers safe in the office or on the job site,” said State Senator Dan Cortese (D-San Jose) in a press release. “Under my SB 553, employers would be prohibited from forcing their rank and file, non-security workers to confront active shoplifters, and all retail employees would be trained on how to react to active shoplifting.”
Loss prevention experts agree that dealing with shoplifters is best left to professionals.
“We can’t fix someone else’s bad decision by making one of our own, Jac Brittain wrote in Loss Prevention magazine. “Confronting a shoplifter always carries with it the potential for an unpredictable outcome … [and it] requires having the judgment and fortitude to let it go when the situation calls for it.”