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Rise of shoplifting – how to protect your shop from shoplifters

4-minute read

Woman stealing red jeans in small clothing shop
Catriona Smith

Catriona Smith

31 October 2023

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The rise of shoplifting is impacting small business retailers on UK high streets as the cost of living crisis continues to bite.

Police recorded 342,343 shoplifting offences in England and Wales in 2022/23, up 24 per cent on the previous 12 months.

While bigger retailers like John Lewis and Tesco are spending thousands on anti-crime measures, it’s a problem that affects businesses of all sizes.

What can you do to tackle shoplifting in your shop? And what’s the government doing to support small businesses? Read on for tips.

Government launches retail crime action plan

The government has launched a shoplifting action plan in a bid to tackle the rise in retail crime.

Police prioritisation to attend incidents and advice for retailers submitting evidence are just some of the measures set out in the Retail Crime Action Plan.

Some shops are also joining forces to share crime data and implement facial recognition cameras as part of this initiative, known as Pegasus.

The practice dubbed ‘surveillance tech’ has been met with resistance from some politicians and privacy campaigners. And while the Home Office has approved use of facial recognition technology to catch criminals, campaigners are concerned about how biometric data is being used on the high street.

However, the BBC reports how (and why) some small businesses are turning to using controversial facial recognition cameras in their shops.

Independent retailers call for grants

Meanwhile, independent retailers are calling for more government support to help small businesses improve security in their shops.

The Federation of Independent Retailers and the British Independent Retailers Association have written to the government asking for a £1,500 grant for each retailer.

They argue this could be spent on improving measures like CCTV, body cameras for staff, and security guards on site.

Tips to tackle shoplifting in your shop

Try these eight tips to improve security in your shop and prevent theft.

1. Know how to spot a shoplifter

One of the first things to prepare yourself and your employees for is how shoplifters are likely to behave. That way you’ll be able to spot them more easily and hopefully be able to stop them.

If someone is planning to shoplift from you, they may well display the following behaviours:

  • attempting to avoid being noticed
  • looking nervous, sweating, or becoming flushed
  • picking up and putting back the same items repeatedly
  • paying more attention to what’s around them than the product in their hand or on the shelves in front of them
  • wearing large coats, even in hot weather, or carrying large bags

Of course, this behaviour doesn’t necessarily mean that someone is planning to steal from you, but they’re signs worth looking out for.

2. Implement shoplifting policies and procedures

Sometimes, even if they suspect someone of shoplifting, your employees may not know what to do about it.

Make sure you have a comprehensive shoplifting policy and risk assessment in place and that your employees are trained in how to implement it should they spot a shoplifter.

3. Use customer service to your advantage

Shoplifters will often get spooked if they know they’ve been spotted, so you can leverage good customer service in order to prevent theft.

Welcome people as soon as they come into your shop with a friendly ‘hello’. This lets them know that you’ve seen them and a thief will be more likely to leave.

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4. Crime mapping

The police recommend shop owners try ‘crime mapping’ to keep a record of any thefts.

This involves recording every detail, from the times and dates to the location in your shop, along with CCTV evidence. If you notice a particular area of your shop is regularly targeted by thieves then see if you can improve the layout or lighting to make it more visible to staff.

5. Optimise your layout

If you can change the layout of your shop, these techniques will make it harder for shoplifters to get away with your products:

  • keep the shop tidy and uncluttered so it shows you’re vigilant and your view across the shop isn’t obstructed
  • put your till nearer the door so customers have to pass you when leaving – and make sure never to leave it unlocked
  • keep blind spots to a minimum, either by moving displays around or installing brighter lighting and convex mirrors
  • consider installing lower displays so you can see customers over the top of them

6. Identify at-risk items and take precautions

If there are items you know are more likely to be stolen, either because you’ve experienced it in the past or because they’re more expensive, take particular care to make them a harder target for shoplifters.

You could place these items in locked display cases, if that’s a viable option. Alternatively you could make sure their displays are near the till, or somewhere where a member of staff will always be able to keep an eye on them.

7. Complete regular stock takes

It’s hard to know if you’ve been stolen from if you don’t know what you had in the first place.

Keeping up-to-date with your stock takes and inventories will help you identify any theft, or even spot patterns if it happens regularly, and you can then make the necessary changes.

8. Tagging and CCTV

If you have the budget to introduce electronic tagging and security cameras then this can help deter thieves even more. An anti-theft tagging system allows you to tag products so an alarm will sound if someone walks out without paying.

Read our guide to the best security cameras for shops for more information.

What to do if you’ve been a victim of theft

It’s important to let both the police and your insurer know if you’ve had items stolen from your shop.

Shop insurance from Simply Business can cover you for theft, so if you don’t have a policy already in place, then it may be time to start thinking about one.

Read more about theft insurance for small businesses in our guide.

What do you do to improve security in your shop? Let us know in the comments. You can also share your views in our quick poll above.

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Photograph: Monstar Studio/stock.adobe.com
Catriona Smith

Written by

Catriona Smith

Catriona Smith is a content and marketing professional with 12 years’ experience across the financial services, higher education, and insurance sectors. She’s also a trained NCTJ Gold Standard journalist. As a Senior Copywriter at Simply Business, Catriona has in-depth knowledge of small business concerns and specialises in tax, marketing, and business operations. Catriona lives in the seaside city of Brighton where she’s also a freelance yoga teacher.

We create this content for general information purposes and it should not be taken as advice. Always take professional advice. Read our full disclaimer

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