Trying to prevent shoplifting can be a frustrating business. There have been many times when I’ve seen a customer select an item, like batteries or vitamins, and then watch as that customer quickly disappears down another aisle. By the time I’ve caught up with the customer, the item is frequently gone and I’m almost certain that they’ve stuffed it in a purse or somewhere in their clothing but I didn’t see the actual concealment of the item. Stopping that person and accusing them of shoplifting is risky, because you don’t have firsthand knowledge of the crime if you didn’t see them actually conceal the item. A strong suspicion isn’t enough to make a shoplifting apprehension. Lawsuits have been filed against stores where loss prevention personnel errantly accuse customers of shoplifting.
In situations like this, deterring the suspected shoplifter is the way to go. Deterring a suspected shoplifter can happen in many different ways. The most common way is to offer excellent customer service. You offer so much customer service that you start driving the shoplifter insane. Let’s return to my earlier example of a customer who had batteries one minute and then those batteries were suddenly gone. If I wanted to deter this shoplifter, the first thing I’d do would be to send a cashier over to the shoplifter and have the cashier ask if the shoplifter needed help to finding the battery aisle. Next, I’d send someone from another department, like the dairy department, and have that employee ask the shoplifter the same thing. After three or four employees asking the shoplifter the same thing, that shoplifter knows that his only option is to dump the merchandise somewhere and make a run for it. It’s always amusing watching the shoplifter frantically try and find an empty aisle so that the merchandise can be de-concealed. I’m obnoxious enough that I sometimes say something snarky to the shoplifter as he does the walk of shame out of the store.
A deterrence can be very useful if you want to prevent shoplifting, although it can carry some risk. Sometimes a shoplifter doesn’t want to be deterred and is determined to get out of the store with their stolen merchandise. Several years ago, I saw a suspected shoplifter with 4 boxes of Motrin and I watched as he sped up and started walking down another aisle. By the time I caught up with him, the Motrin was gone but I didn’t see him conceal it. I started trying to deter him by sending employees to “help” him, but after the 2nd employee offered to assist him in finding the Motrin, he started screaming profanities and epithets at everyone. As I got closer, I could see the outline of the Motrin in his pants, so I went ahead and called the police to report the shoplifting and the insane outburst. This fine, upstanding citizen (I nicknamed him Motrin Man) , continued swearing and threatening employees. After two more minutes of this, I decided that mentally, Motrin Man was a few pills short of a bottle, if you know what I mean.
Eventually, the police arrived and Motrin Man was still screaming and threatening people so the police arrested him for shoplifting, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. It turned out that Motrin Man was high on drugs and was trying to steal the painkillers to sell them for more drug money. That day I was lucky because I was able to prevent shoplifting, and send a criminal to jail. Deterring suspected shoplifters isn’t as satisfying as making a shoplifting apprehension, but it does get the job done.
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