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How to Reduce Store Theft
By Ray Yono :: Thursday, February 21, 2008 :: 23954 Views :: Article Rating :: Business & Finance

Chaldean entrepreneurs know how hard it is to make a buck without shoplifters helping themselves to their inventory. How do you stop them?

According to the research conducted by National Retail Federation and the University of Florida, Shoplifters in America account for over $13 billion of the total $41 billion in annual losses due to "shrinkage" (including employee theft, shoplifting, administrative error and vendor fraud).

Chaldean entrepreneurs know how frustrating theft can be when margins are slim and continue to get slimmer.  Shrinkage eats up 1.6% of the industry's sales--a huge number considering that giants Wal-Mart, Costco, Home Depot, Kroger, and Walgreen post an average profit margin of only 3.6%, according to Reuters Global Fundamentals.

Little surprise that, earlier this spring, Wal-Mart announced it would go after shoplifters as young as 16; the cutoff age used to be 18.  The challenge to stop theft has been an ongoing struggle for Chaldean business owners who are often faced with theft and a police force who often consider theft a low criminal priority. 

While thieves come in all shapes and sizes, there are a few rules of thumb for thwarting them, says Chris McGoey, owner of an eponymous security consulting firm in Los Angeles who has helped Chaldean businesses reduce theft. 

Fancy equipment like closed-circuit camera systems and sensor tags are nice but beyond the reach of many small business Chaldean stores.  A more affordable defense (and also a great offense): customer service.  Shoplifters aren’t looking for attention, so continually offering to help a thief find merchandise may well encourage him to steal elsewhere. "Good customer service is the key to preventing shoplifting," says McGoey.

A smart store layout can keep customers honest too. McGoey's suggestion: Display smaller or valuable items near the center of the store--or at least in the flow of employee traffic. On the flip side, keep large, unwieldy items toward the outskirts. And, of course, position the cash register near the door, between the thief and freedom.

Don't be afraid to use some psychological warfare too. Post plenty of signs barking the message that shoplifting won’t be tolerated. Crooks will think twice.

Say you catch someone in the act. What to do? For small proprietors, McGoey suggests not getting the law involved, if only because most are not equipped to safely detain a thief.

The other reason: When it comes to vigilantism, the law may not be on your side. According to Frank Casco Jr., a civil litigator in California, retailers who aggressively defend their turf might invite civil charges of false imprisonment, assault, battery or emotional distress. "Unfortunately, crooks have more rights than the merchants," says McGoey.

The Chaldeans best bet: Get your merchandise back, administer a stern warning and avoid any further confrontation.  Deterrence is key to keep loss due to theft at a minimum.