We had caught another
shoplifter in one of our retail stores. We called the police, and the
officer handcuffed the little rodent and then searched him.
The merchandise he took from our store
was already on the table. It wasn’t until the officer frisked him that
he found the goods taken from our competitor’s store stuffed under his
It’s confirmed, I thought with a
great sense of relief. They’re picking on someone besides me.
Sometimes I feel that our stores have
been ordained the campus of the Heald School of Shoplifting. Students from
all over the world, aspiring to become professional shoplifters, are lured
by the seemingly easy pickings our stores offer.
Not that we intentionally make it easy.
We already have security tags, monitored cameras and undercover off-duty
police on the scene, and I’m considering placing a snarling pit bull in
more remote corners of some stores.
It all helps, but they still get us. We
nail a few freshmen, but students in the popular course, Advanced
Shoplifting, are surely robbing us blind.
The statistics, which I read voraciously to
ease my paranoia about being the only one hit, are frightening.
Over 50 percent of all shoplifting
is done by teenagers. The FBI estimates that one out of three
teenagers steals merchandise.
Girls outnumber boys seven to one in
Teens shoplift most often for fun,
on a dare.
Approximately $10 million in
merchandise is stolen by shoplifters each day in the United States.
One out of 15 customers enters a
store with the intent to shoplift.
99 percent of shoplifters
apprehended have enough money with them to pay for the merchandise
It is estimated that only one out of
34 shoplifters is actually apprehended.
While all those statistics
are cause for jumping off an obviously sinking ship, it is the last one
that I find most distressing, and easiest to believe.
There is no absolute prevention, or
anything close; 33 out of 34 shoplifters are getting away. And then the
one that is caught is booked, charged with petty theft, and in most cases
back on the street within hours. The court system is simply too
overwhelmed to prosecute most cases.
So what does a retailer do? Since
taking every third teenager who enters the store and throwing them out on
their ear might be considered discriminatory, only one option is left –
raise prices. To compensate for losses, the paying customers are forced to
share the burden.
And the battle continues to increase
our capture rate to to two out of 34. The fellow we caught who also had
the merchandise from our competitor’s store was a
"professional." He was on parole, with a string of felonies on
If we only catch one out of 34, this
was a good one to catch. The teenagers who steal on a dare (ha, ha, ha,
what fun!) in general confine their plunder to inexpensive items. The
professionals can put you out of business.
Some professionals we know by sight but
are unable to catch. I saw one on the street the other day selling some of
our merchandise out of his car. Not having seen him take it, there was
nothing I could do except complain to the police that he was selling
without a permit. He moved on before I even got that pitiful chance.
The frustration is overwhelming. In 12
years of business, I have personally only witnessed a handful of
shoplifting incidents. When I wander through the stores, I search for that
one out of every 15 people with evil intent. I see only good, honest
Am I blind? The statistics say a bat
could see better than me.
So I pour money into prevention, hoping
to mitigate our damages from the invisible shoplifters. With thousands and
thousands of dollars spent on cameras, sensors and undercover security, we
might deter a few teenagers and catch a couple of professionals.
When the police led the handcuffed
fellow into the patrol car, it was a small measure of satisfaction. But
while he had flunked Advanced Shoplifting and would be spending the summer
in jail, I couldn’t help but think he’d most likely be back next
semester determined not to flunk again.