Public Service Announcement – Recognizing Shoplifting 101

Weird topic, right?

I was in the self-check line at a local grocery store the other day (the line for unlimited items) and a couple ahead of me had two shopping carts.  The woman was running things through the scanner and the man was at the end bagging and putting things into the second cart. Efficient.

I was only half paying attention, but was there for their whole transaction. When they were done, the woman moved the empty cart up behind the full cart and quietly transferred a case of soda to the “bagged” cart. She didn’t scan it. I glanced around and the clerk was busy helping someone else in the self-check line. The couple finished up quickly and off they went. Free case of soda.


As someone who worked at a small shop, I can tell you that LOTS of people shoplift, and it’s not often who you think it might be.  I worked in a quilt shop, for Pete’s sake. 98% of the customers were women and more than half of them were over 50.

But some of them stole from us.  Sometimes it wasn’t much. They often purchased from us at the same time.  But we learned to get good at recognizing them.

Some stats (click for more): 

  • 1 in 11 people is a shoplifter. Think about any 11 people you may know.  One of them likes to steal things from stores.
  • 75% of shoplifters are adults, 25% are kids.
  • They are caught only 1 in every 48 attempts, and brought in front of police only 50% of the time.
  • Only 3% are professional, organized, international shoplifters. The other 97% are regular people who get a kick out of it. It’s a mini-thrill, probably the same as you or I would get from a chocolate treat.

Working in a quilt shop we had several types of shoplifters.  Sometimes we’d be visited by a team, one chit-chatting with workers while the other “browses”. When only one person is manning the store, a shoplifter will often give that person a task; cut some fabric, search for something online, while off they go to quietly grab.

Others will continue a conversation with a worker, making sure they are just out of your eye sight. They are around a corner, they stoop down to see something and in it goes into the handbag.

I’m not making any of this up. And you know, every quilter has a giant bag she carries around with her…mostly innocently.

At our shop, we established a code word.  I won’t give it away, because you never know when it will come up again. But if any worker at any time said the code word in any context, it was all hands on deck. We stopped whatever we were doing and focused on the culprit. All eyes on YOU. (Not you, of course, but the shoplifter.)

As a shop owner, you have no right to stop someone until they are out of the building. Then what are you going to do? Chase them in the parking lot over a fatquarter or spool of thread? Maybe.

We found that prevention was the best approach. Once someone was suspected, they were followed ruthlessly by workers, made to feel uncomfortable. The goal was “Goodbye, don’t come back, or we’ll do the same thing.” Were we sometimes mistaken? Possibly. But you develop a sense of these things and we were a vigilant group.

With eyes wide open, I see more petty theft all around than I ever did before.  I once knew someone who worked in security at the Shedd Aquarium in downtown Chicago.

Now THERE are some real thieves…well-known bands of pickpockets that worked in teams and preyed especially on older women with big bags, and pre-occupied moms. The more crowded the day, the more thefts take place.

My advice to you: open your eyes.

You will be surprised at what you see. And it will train you not to be a victim.

The good news is, most shoplifters won’t ever commit another type of crime. It’s their thing. Just don’t let it happen in your shop. And if you don’t own a shop? You don’t want it either, because prices will rise for all of us.

Eyes open.


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