How to Prevent Retail Theft During the Holidays and Year Round

Retail theft is an ongoing issue that continues to hurt retailers across the globe. Now that we are in the height of the holiday shopping season, the influx of in-store foot traffic and creative online fraudsters are keeping brand owners on edge. 

Just last month, frontline learning provider Axonify surveyed U.S. frontline managers in retail, finding that more than two-thirds (70%) of managers claim they or their staff have witnessed an increase in theft within the last year. Nearly half (49%) say they or their staff have seen an increase in theft and customer violence in the past 30 days alone.

An Increase In Violent Crime

Outside of individual customer theft and violence, Axonify’s survey also found that retailers are experiencing an increase in organized retail crime (ORC) as well as theft from regular and seasonal workers, despite enforcing zero-tolerance policies. 

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“Theft has been part of our lived experience for quite some time, but it has dramatically changed in the nature of how it’s happening,” Christine Noh, Owner of Nohble, says. “In the past, someone would sneak in, try to stay under the radar, and sneak products into their bags. But now there is much more aggressive behavior. Large groups are running into stores unmasked and some are even making threats.”

Timothy Sutton, Senior Security Consultant at Guidepost Solutions, explains that theft is higher during the holidays, particularly this year than in past holidays, for several reasons. 

“With inflation and the economy taking its toll on shoppers, the lack of available cash to spend on gifts may motivate those who wouldn’t normally steal to be desperate enough to resort to theft. In addition, the potential for prosecution, incarceration, or filing charge for theft has been relaxed or eliminated. For example, the Illinois’ SAFE-T ACT eliminates cash bail; therefore, the risk of spending the night in jail has lost its power,” Sutton says.

What Can Retailers Do?

There are a variety of ways that retailers can help prevent theft in their stores — even those with smaller budgets. Specialty Retailer spoke with multiple retail experts to gather their insights and suggestions. This is their advice:

Train Your Employees

The biggest action retailers can take to prevent theft is to properly train their employees so they know what to do when experiencing a crime taking place in the store. “Training employees to be on the lookout for suspicious behavior is the first thing retailers are definitely saying they’re spending more time on,” Linda Johansen-James, Founder and CEO of International Retail Group, LLC, says. 

With multiple locations, Noh says that what works great for her stores is speaking with the staff regularly to remind them of best practices when dealing with a theft incident. “All of our teams meet regularly to see what went well or what went poorly, and we recap any incidents that happened and how people handled it,” she explains.

Lock Down More Products

In the Axonify survey, 61% of frontline managers report locking down more products in the store to prevent theft. This is an especially great method for expensive merchandise.

Ensure Employees are Engaging With Shoppers

Sutton suggests strategies such as making eye contact, welcoming shoppers and offering them help can greatly reduce the risk of theft in stores. Once shoppers know that they are being watched, they are less likely to try to steal products. 

Greeting customers as they walk through the door can also give employees the ability to see if there is anything out of the ordinary, such as if they are carrying large duffle bags or backpacks that they can easily shove merchandise into, according to Sutton. 

“As part of our operating procedures, we want to make sure we’re providing the best customer service. Everyone is acknowledged,” Noh says. “Just establish a rapport with customers. People are less likely to steal from a place with a smiley face and good engagement.”

Invest in Security Cameras

Even the small mom and pop shops need security cameras. Being able to monitor everything that goes on in your store is super important, says Johansen-James. While it may be less helpful in the moment to prevent theft, once a report is filed with the police, surveillance footage gives law enforcement the ability to see the thief.

Monitor Dressing Rooms

“If you have enough staff, ensure they are taking customers back to the dressing room themselves and counting the items of clothing they are trying on to make sure every item also comes out,” Johansen-James advises. This tactic only works if you have enough employees to ensure the dressing room is being watched at all times. Otherwise, you may want to close down your dressing room until the busy season is over or until you have enough staff.

Stay Connected With the Local Police

As the Treasurer of the 138th Street Merchants Collective in New York, Noh notes that one of the biggest takeaways she learned from this is to keep in touch with the local police department. 

“Many times theft doesn’t get reported to the police, but those numbers in terms of reporting are so important for creating a paper trail for additional resources. If one retail theft incident is reported, the city precinct won’t increase patrols. But if 30 or 100 come in, that changes the dynamic, so it’s important for businesses to report,” says Noh.

Place the POS Desk Closer to the Door

Johansen-James suggests placing your POS desk closer to the door instead of toward the since this can also prevent customers from stealing products. This doesn’t even need to be an expensive process — you can just set up a small counter or table and place the POS there during your busiest hours.

Count Inventory Daily

Conducting spot checks on inventory is a great way to tell if something has been stolen from the store. Johansen-James says she trains all of her clients to do daily spot checks, since many aren’t even doing monthly checks. 

“This allows you to understand how many items you have in each category, so you can notice when things go missing. It’s such an inexpensive way to monitor your store,” notes Johansen-James. 

There are so many ways that brick-and-mortar retailers can prevent theft in their stores. Give some of these a try if you haven’t already, and always be sure to check with other local stores to see what they’re doing, as well.