When assessing shoplifting, it is not initially considered an adverse issue that affects the community as a whole. It is a shocking reality that Canadian retail profits are reduced by nearly 30%. This amounts to an extraordinary $3.6 billion per year lost in retail crime (1) or $8 million lost per day (2); of which 35% is attributed to shoplifting. Consequences include decreases in sales associates’ wages and hours, and inflation of costs for products, making consumers to pay more for goods (2).
Within the Region of Peel, 2010 saw a 4.6% increase with 5000 reported incidents rather than 4700 the previous year (3). This figure sounds minimal in comparison with population statistics, and the Peel Regional Police boast an over 90% solvency rate for shoplifting crimes (3). Nevertheless, shoplifters are caught once in every forty-eight times they actually steal merchandise, translating to an approximate 2% chance of being caught (4). Upon being caught by retailers one in every forty-eight times, offenders have a 50% chance of being reported to the Police. Results of these facts are an obvious statement that shoplifting is most often an undetected crime (5).
Spatially speaking, shop theft rates are higher among Toronto’s high commercial activity nodes which not surprisingly contain shopping centers and are concentrated near the city core where human activity is at its peak and is anonymous in nature and more opportunities are present (6). Demographically, a Statistics Canada report indicated Torontonian students self-reported that shoplifting and vandalism were the most frequent property related delinquent act; shoplifting attributed to 53% of those incidents (7). Reports unanimously conclude that a large percentage of shopthefts are committed by adolescents. Tonglet’s study found that among student samples, 51% admitted to being involved in shoplifting crimes whereas consumer respondent samples indicated a 32% involvement rate (8). We can conclude from these findings that shoplift prevention should implement shoplifting campaigns targeted at youth cohorts and education on shop theft crime. Advising students that it is likely they will get caught and explaining the serious consequences that involves banning from a mall, charges, fines, and a criminal record that can affect their chances at obtaining future employment. What can parents do? Reinforcement from family members and friends are effective deterrents for youth. Disapproval and feelings of shame instil negative associations with deviant behaviour; mitigating pro-shoplifting viewpoints and reducing the likelihood that the adolescents will rationally choose to shoplift. One must not forget that adults compose a large percentage of those who shoplift and many prevention techniques are universal to all demographics.
Internal vs. External Theft
According to Jack L. Hays International Inc, employees steal a little over 7 times the amount of products stolen by customer shoplifters (9). Although employees predominantly steal more merchandise on average, future projections forecast that theft by customers will account for 62% of shopthefts and 33% will be committed by employees (10). According to the Peel Regional Police, the most effective defence against internal theft is pre-employment screening (2). Considering that large percentages of stolen goods are taken by recidivists who steal an average of 1.6 times per week (5), requiring potential employees to complete a criminal record check and credit history check should be mandatory. Safe City Mississauga would advise promoting awareness of shoplifting, as employees may not consider taking merchandise as a criminal act of stealing. The majority of expert shoplifters do not have a criminal record (remember, there is only a 2% chance of shoplifters getting caught). How do you prevent internal theft if record checks just won’t suffice? A holistic approach may be the most effective tool. Implementing various crime prevention techniques including natural access control, natural surveillance and territorial reinforcement to increase effort, increase risks and reduce rewards offer dynamic control over the retail environment.
A study conducted on the behavioural component of shoplifting argued that shoplifting is a result of three factors; a motivated consumer, desirable products within a retail space and the opportunity to steal items (8).
C.P.T.E.D. (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design) audits for the retail environment may decrease security problems up to 50% and may also increase retail sales up to 33% (11); if you are a retailer, the cost of an audit may be worth the money to reduce inventory shrink rates. C.P.T.E.D. strategies target natural surveillance, natural access control and territorial reinforcement.
Removing the opportunity to steal an item is essential to preventing thefts. Consumers have reported that although they did not go to a retail center with the intent to steal an item, an opportunity arose and they took advantage of the opportunity (8). Risk management techniques involve placing high-risk inventory in strategic locations throughout the story to facilitate natural access control. Paying attention to costumers and designing the interior of the store with low shelves and wide aisle (11) to make clear sight lines removes opportunities for them to be unseen for natural and informal surveillance. Training on strategic placement of employees in conjunction with the store design increases visibility and can be paired with CCTV cameras to increase feelings of “being watched” and therefore easily caught. Desirable products are inevitable within the retails space. Locking up valuable items in a glass case limits easy access for those who want those high-end items at no cost (11). Territorial reinforcement will create a sense of ownership and rights over the retail space. This can be done to prevent shoplifting through regular store maintenance including organizing of goods so that those that are missing are easily identifiable and aesthetic design to promote the sensation that if something is missing, it will be noticed (11).
The perception that security is ineffective and shoplifting is a low-risk crime may be connected to the fact that customer thefts are not reported as often as employee theft. Training of retail employees and security within the malls on procedure of theft incidents and the importance of reporting to the Police may increase arrests and deter recidivism. Regardless of efforts, expert shoplifters will continually attempt to find methods around the retail system, but increasing risks by combining product placement, tagging items, employee positioning, store layout and natural access control will mitigate opportunities. Having a C.P.T.E.D. audit completed for your business is a great first step; contact Safe City Mississauga or your local crime prevention agency to arrange for an audit.
- PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP and Retail Council of Canada. (2007). Canadian Retail Security Survey 2007.
- Peel Regional Police. Shoptheft Prevention: Are You Responsible? Fact Sheet. http://www.peelpolice.ca/Crime%20Prevention/ecms.aspx/CrimePreventionServices/FactSheets09/ShoptheftPrevention.pdf Version Current May 2008.
- Christidis, Chris. September 2011. Peel Regional Police Telephone Interview.
- Bethune, Brian. (2011). Shoplifting is Florishing Worldwide: why is steak on everyone’s top 10 list? MacLeans. http://www2.macleans.ca/2011/07/19/the-big-steal/
- CBC Documentaries. The Secret World of Shoplifting Factsheet. http://www.cbc.ca/documentaries/doczone/2009/shoplifting/factsheet.html
- Charron, Mathieu. (2006). Study: Neighbourhood characteristics and distribution of police-reported crime in Toronto. Crime and Justice Research Paper Series. Statistics Canada. http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/090924/dq090924a-eng.htm
- Statistics Canada. (2006).Study: Self-reported delinquency among young people in Toronto. http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/070925/dq070925a-eng.htm
- Tonglet, Michele. (2001).Consumer misbehaviour: an exploratory study on shoplifting. Journal of Consumer Misbehaviour. Henry Stewart Publications.
- Jack L. Hays International Inc. (2011). http://www.hayesinternational.com/
- Hamilton Police Service. Shoplifting: facts and prevention. http://www.hamiltonpolice.on.ca/NR/rdonlyres/0AA9D405-5EDF-4948-9620-0A8FB8A1EAB1/0/SHOPLIFTING.pdf
- Carmel-Gilfilen. 2011. Advancing retail security design: uncovering shoplifter perceptions of the physical environment. Interior Design Educators Council. Journal of Interior Design 36(2), 21-38