Retail Solutions Forum: Defending a store against shoplifting and employee theft

The Retail Solutions column in our new Expert Network section is designed to be your personal retail advisory sounding-board with retail owners, managers, buyers and merchandisers from our retail advisory partner, Grassroots Outdoor Alliance, available to answer your questions. Our retail forum offered up tangible suggestions to one retailer's query about dealing with shoplifting and employee theft.

All industries can interact and communicate to help out each other -- ours are no different. The Retail Solutions column in our new Expert Network section is designed to be your personal retail advisory sounding-board with retail owners, managers, buyers and merchandisers from our retail advisory partner, Grassroots Outdoor Alliance, available to answer your questions. The format for this, as with other Expert Network sections, will not be unlike a “Dear Abby” for business. Together with our panel of experts, SNEWS® will offer a forum for readers to discuss a topic, chime in with their own ideas, and suggest different recommendations to a variety of business concerns or issues. Fire off a question about any topic specific to the retail business by email to Our experts are standing by.

Q. How do I defend my store against shoplifting and employee theft without seeming like I'm building a fortress?

A. Four specialty outdoor retailers chimed in with what works in their store:

>> Employee theft is a very sensitive and difficult issue. Having a good and fair work environment and good employee morale is important. Background checks of new hires are also important. The owner should lead by example and one way of doing that is paying for all merchandise he or she takes. Installing a network of video cameras, including in the receiving room and on cash registers, is a very good deterrent. RF merchandise tags are good deterrents too. We use both video and RF tags and I would recommend other stores do as well. We installed our own video cameras and purchased them at a reasonable price from If a physical inventory shows losses of more than 1 percent of sales, employee packs and bags should be checked.

>> We have installed a 12-camera security system that hits all areas of the store and the climbing center. This is viewable from any laptop anywhere in the world -- so the staff knows they are being watched or could be watched at any time. We also just purchased a large flat screen, which runs loop video and the security cameras will pop up notifying customers that we do have a security system.

We schedule a person for every area/room of the store daily. They are responsible for staying in that area and watching customers. If they leave, they notify one of a number of designated employees to cover the area. We have secret shoppers come in randomly to steal from us. Once they have gotten their loot, we bring the staff on duty together and talk about how this could have been prevented and that seems to have helped more than anything. We are trying to create more of an awareness.

Of course, there are professionals that we are not going to catch. But if we can do small things like providing good customer service by greeting customers when they come in, asking them follow-up questions "if they need any help" and then thanking customers when they leave, a petty thief will most likely have a hard time stealing.

And, we are known in the community for prosecuting regardless of the item's dollar amount.

As for staff theft, hopefully we have hired "honest" staff. We try our best to make sure no one is tempted or left alone in the store whether they are opening or closing. We have checked bags before leaving in the past. Managing this aspect of the business is a bit harder because employees can learn the manager/owner's routine.

>> One "greeting rule" we use is to say "hi" and "bye" to every person who enters our store. We look at them, smile and offer to help. By doing the hi/bye and talking to them, we hope to instill a friendly atmosphere, as in you don't steal from your friends. They also may realize that we looked at them, maybe registered hair color, height, etc.

Another trick is to have different colors of tape at the exit door on the door frame in heights of 5 feet, 5 feet six inches, and 6 feet. That way if someone is running out the door, we can glance at the tape so we know how tall the person is if we have to report a theft.

>> We use security tags on merchandise, such as jackets, sweaters, better tops and bottoms, etc., and we have video surveillance, but our primary security concept is a large staff of knowledgeable associates greeting every customer, offering assistance and circulating around the sales floor. As far as we know, the odds of a customer shoplifting decreases substantially if they are greeted upon entering the store so we make that a mandatory part of being a cashier. We also insist that every sales associate approaches every customer to inquire about what has brought them into the shop and to see if they can be of any assistance. It is not unusual for customers to be approached three or four times during their visit even if they do not want sales help. We have found that this approach has many benefits. It increases our sales volume by making the store "not self-service," increases the trust in our expertise among our customers and decreases shoplifting.

As for employee theft, we all suffer from that. We have video cameras recording the warehouse, as well as the retail space. We also make our employees check their personal items in a closet at the front of our store and look for evidence of pilferage such as tags on the ground, items being stashed, etc. We are quite obvious in our concerns about employee theft and make sure all employees know we are always on the look-out for such behavior.

About Grassroots Outdoor Alliance

Grassroots Outdoor Alliance unites independent outdoor retailers as a strong voice to protect and promote the experience of outdoor enthusiasts across the United States. We enable access to best business practices for our retail members, to the best equipment and apparel brands for the public, and to the backcountry for all. For more information, visit