8 Low-Tech Ways to Prevent Shoplifting in Your Retail Store

Inexpensive technology and staff vigilance can help bring shrinkage down to zero.
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Protect your small business from theft. Display products with theft prevention in mind and monitor shoppers throughout the store. (Photo: Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock)

Every retailer faces the challenge of curbing shoplifting. Smaller stores need to do it without breaking the bank.

Because most thieves will steal only when there’s an easy opportunity, your goal is to make stealing a little more difficult and less tempting. Keep unpaid-for merchandise where it belongs with these low-tech, inexpensive approaches.

Train staff to be aware

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J. Patrick Murphy said owners can install a camera pointed at the door and a monitor hanging from the ceiling and attached to a DVR for about $1,000. (Photo: J. Patrick Murphy)

Your employees are your first and last line of defense against theft, said Jeff Zisner, president and CEO of AEGIS Security and Investigations, based in California. Train them to be aware of suspicious behavior, such as a customer taking a large pile of clothes into a dressing room after just a few minutes of browsing or lingering in a particular area for an unusual amount of time.

The training should instill in employees the same drive to stop theft as the owner has, said Zisner.

Mark Barnes, CEO and founder of LNL Systems, a provider of smart sales floor technology, noted shoplifters sometimes work in pairs. “A customer ‘fainted’ in one of our client stores and associates and the manager responded to help. However, one of the associates, still on the sales floor, then noticed a thief grabbing cosmetics.”

J. Patrick Murphy, president of LPT Security Consulting, recommended creating a written policy on the store’s zero tolerance of shoplifting and theft for all new employees to sign. Such a policy will drive employee vigilance, said Murphy, who recommended using the company newsletter to remind employees of the policy and why loss prevention is so important to the bottom line.

Establish shrink goals

“Shrink” refers to both internal and external theft. Setting shrink goals can help get everyone on board.

“A retailer should establish shrink goals, either on a monthly or quarterly basis, and if the company, as a whole, succeeds in keeping shrink at a certain level, then everyone gets a reward,” said Zisner.

Greet shoppers on arrival

Greet every customer on arrival and make eye contact, advised Chris McGoey of McGoey Security Consulting. This boosts customer engagement, but it also puts potential shoplifters on notice that you’re aware of their presence.

Related: How to Win Over a Customer in 10 Seconds or Less

Use tech to stem theft

Retailers have a slew of cost-effective technology options, from webcams to closed circuit TVs to sensor mats that monitor store activity and customer location.

Murphy recommended a camera pointed at the entry door with a monitor hanging from the ceiling and attached to a DVR. “It’s cheap and could be installed DIY. Total cost of equipment would be around $1,000,” he said.

“Having well placed cameras in a layout that allows complete line of sight goes a long way in making people who might otherwise shoplift go somewhere else.” -Jeff Zisner

You can also opt for inexpensive inventory control systems that emit an alarm if an item leaves the store without being purchased. But these don’t work if employees ignore the alarm. “What I see often is the alarm being ignored ‘because it always does that,’” said Murphy.

Display products with theft prevention in mind

Merchandise placement plays a big role in thwarting shoplifting. For example, expensive high-end ticket items shouldn’t be in a basket by the door but in a display away from the front.

A tidy, organized store can make it easier to notice right away when merchandise has been swiped. “Keep the store shelves neat and product pulled forward as that helps to identify what was stolen versus purchased the next time a shoplifter comes calling,” said McGoey.

Low shelves and displays afford better visibility than tall ones.

Related: 6 Retail Store Design Tweaks to Boost Sales

Walk the store to see what shoppers are up to

Shop owners who tend to stay behind the checkout counter are opening the door to a shoplifter.

“Shoplifters want privacy and want to seem invisible,” said McGoey. “Get out from behind the counter, approach customers and offer to help them find items.”

“In walking the store, a manager may notice a customer shopping in a certain spot for a long period of time and can suggest a store associate go over and help the customer,” noted Barnes.

Make sure employees aren’t stealing

Good store security, said the experts, starts with hiring staff that won’t become part of the theft problem.

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“The best tricks to minimize internal losses are hiring the right people, conducting a pre-employment background check and having a way for employees to submit feedback and suspicious behavior.”-Jeff Zisner (Photo: Jeff Zisner)

“The best tricks to minimize internal losses are hiring the right people, conducting a pre-employment background check and having a way for employees to submit feedback and suspicious behavior,” said Zisner.

Murphy said problems can arise when staff is allowed to handle employee purchases.

“There should be a clear policy regarding employee purchases to avoid potential theft. For example, managers should conduct all employee purchases and the purchase goods should be then put in an office or locker,” he said.

Related: The Right Way to Handle Employee Theft (and How to Prevent It)

Shore up inventory tracking and register review

Shoplifting can happen away from product aisles, such as in a storage area, dressing room or delivery area. That’s why, Zisner said, it’s important to regularly conduct product inventory reviews to discover losses as soon as possible.

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