Crime is a reality for retailers of all sizes. It might not be fun to talk about, but shopkeepers need to know how to prevent loss and keep themselves, their staff, and their business safe.
Before opening The Salvaged Boutique, I had a 20-year career in law enforcement. I worked the streets in a major metropolitan city—which meant I was exposed to and experienced a LOT. While I may not be a loss prevention expert (and this isn’t legal advice, of course!), I do have some practical knowledge to share with you.
Loss Prevention Basics
Two everyday things most retailers already do to mitigate loss prevention are 1) require receipts for returns and 2) track inventory. Both of these help us identify if there’s shrinkage.
But there’s so much more we can do! If you’re a member of The Shopkeeper’s Lab, be sure to print the PDF worksheet for this topic in the Operations module.
Here are other ways we can mitigate loss and theft in our stores:
Create Sight Lines Throughout Your Store
You can deter theft better when you can see what’s happening throughout your store. Here’s how to make your entire space easier to see.
Look over your store layout and optimize it for visibility and clear sightlines.
For example, we have a cabinet in the middle of my store that’s driving me crazy because I can’t see fully around it. I’m planning to move it soon so I can see better.
Place easily stolen, small, or high-ticket items near the cash wrap.
Jewelry is very common for theft, so this is an excellent example of an item that should be very visible and close to your cash wrap.
If your store has a second floor, don’t display or merchandise smaller items there.
Smaller items are quickly dropped into a bag or a coat pocket, so have those within sight of the cash wrap.
Consider moving your cash wrap to the front of your store.
One of our group members recently had someone come into her apparel store, grab 25 items of clothing, and run out the front door. The store owner couldn’t do anything as she was at the back of the store. She’s since moved her cash wrap to the front of the store.
Install security equipment or cameras and make them known.
This adds visibility to all the areas of your store. You can find my favorites here.
Advertising your security measures with signage that says “Wave hi to the camera!” or “This area under 24-hour surveillance” can also deter theft.
Keep Your Valuables Safe
Making valuables harder to find can also prevent theft. Whether you’re trying to avoid a break-in after hours or just keep your personal property safer while you’re at the store, it’s worth it to add an extra step to your closing or opening procedures.
Remove your cash drawers at night and put cash in the safe.
One of our group members was recently robbed. Their staff usually removes the cash drawer and locks it away in the safe, but a manager had to leave early and didn’t have a chance to do so. They ended up having to replace a broken cash drawer and lost the $400 left in the other till.
Protect your personal belongings.
We don’t often think about our purse, bag, wallet, or cell phone during work. Are they in your back office? Are they tucked behind the checkout counter?
If someone is willing to commit a crime, they’re not going to worry about an “employees only” sign. That’s why you should lock personal items in your back office.
A group member recently shared that a shopper waited until staff was busy, walked behind the checkout counter, and stole workers’ or the owner’s personal belongings at several stores in their area. Their credit cards were used before staff even realized they were gone.
Keeping items in a locked drawer if you don’t have a back office is a safer bet.
Train Your Staff in Loss Prevention
Training your staff to notice shoplifting behavior can absolutely minimize loss prevention. But it’s important to do so in a way that keeps their safety in mind and minimizes implicit biases.
Educate your staff about red flag behavior.
Shoplifters come in all shapes and sizes. It’s little old ladies, rich moms with their kids in tow, and businessmen who put things in their coat pockets. That’s why having a list of behaviors to look out for is beneficial.
Here are some behaviors we look out for:
1. Large, open bags.
2. Groups that come in and split up.
3. Repeatedly picking up items and replacing them (this can sometimes indicate price tag swapping).
4. Looking around to see if they’re being watched.
5. Moving away from employees.
6. Distracting duos, where one person is super engaged with staff, and the other is free to steal.
Safety always comes first.
During violent crime situations, like a robbery, emotions will run high. But NO property in your store or merchandise is worth getting hurt. Staying safe is always priority number one.
As I was writing the script for this podcast episode, I saw a news story about a local store robbery. An employee tried to apprehend the suspect, but it led to a scuffle in the parking lot. The suspect pulled a machete out, the two fought, and the employee was injured.
Shoplifters or a shoplifting situation can seem harmless, but suspects in these situations can be drug users, under the influence, or have mental health issues. These situations can quickly escalate. Again, it’s just not worth risking your safety—no matter how badly you may want to act on it.
Set up a team code.
If something is happening in the store and you want to alert a team member without alarming the thief, use a code phrase like, “The pie I ordered is in the fridge.”
Or, use a nonverbal code—one of our group members mentioned turning on a disco ball! Everyone in the store will know without alerting any customers or the suspect.
Document emergency procedures and instructions for your staff.
Include ICE (in case of emergency) names and phone numbers, your local police department, family members, and business neighbors who can help in a pinch. Post the local police and fire information near the cash register.
Keep an open phone line during an emergency.
If something is happening in the store and you can’t actually have a conversation with a dispatcher, keep an open phone line.
I know firsthand that even though it might frustrate the dispatcher that you’re not speaking, hearing what’s going on in the background can be extremely helpful.
Have a way to identify counterfeit money.
Learn what to look for and keep a detector pen or light at the checkout for large bills. This article has some other valuable tips for detecting counterfeit bills.
Make eye contact with and greet every customer.
If this isn’t possible due to foot traffic or the size of your store, practice the 10-foot rule. At a minimum, make eye contact with customers who come within 10 feet of you.
One of our group members said, “we prevent shoplifting with exceptional customer service.” It’s such a good reminder!
Other Useful Loss Prevention Strategies
Finally, here are some strategies that take loss prevention one step further.
Hire a loss prevention team member.
For larger stores or stores with a lot of revenue, it might be worth investing in a dedicated team member to prevent shoplifting.
Contact your local police department for an audit.
Some police departments offer small business loss prevention audits. Having outside assistance to help you determine your business’s vulnerabilities can be enlightening.
Implement internal systems to mitigate employee theft.
Having systems in place can help prevent these types of situations. For example, a cash drawer procedure will show your team that you carefully monitor it.
Other things to look out for are discount abuse, feelings of entitlement, cash handling, changing prices, and slack inventory control.
Be Smart, Be Aware, and Protect Yourself
Whether it’s a property crime or a violent crime, emotions will run high and leave victims feeling violated. I don’t wish any of this on shopkeepers, but we mustn’t neglect or avoid this part of business ownership. Be smart, be aware, and protect yourself.
Some of these situations can be traumatizing, don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask for help.
Again, I’m not an expert here. This isn’t legal advice. But I do hope it helps keep you, your team members, and your business a little safer.
*Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links or referral codes, and at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase after clicking through the link or using the code. I make recommendations because I genuinely believe they are useful to shopkeepers. Please do not spend any money on these products unless you feel you need them or that they will help you achieve your goals.
- My favorite resources for shopkeepers, including security cameras and equipment
- Tips for detecting counterfeit bills
- Join The Shopkeepers Lab
- Add your name to the waitlist for Master Shopkeepers
- [03:01] Loss Prevention Basics
- [04:10] Create Sight Lines Throughout Your Store
- [07:51] Keep Your Valuables Safe
- [09:34] Train Your Staff in Loss Prevention
- [19:17] Other Useful Loss Prevention Strategies
- [21:50] Be Smart, Be Aware, and Protect Yourself