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Shoplifting (also known as retail theft, or shrinkage within the retail industry) is theft of goods from a retail establishment by an ostensible patron. It is one of the most common crimes for police and courts.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Most shoplifters are amateurs; however, there are people and groups who make their living from shoplifting, and they tend to be more skilled. Some individuals shoplift in an effort to resist selling their labor, and/or to protest corporate power, or for political attention.[1] These individuals target—often exclusively—chain stores; Wal-Mart is an especially popular target for "political shoplifters" in America. Sainsbury's and Tesco are primary targets in the UK

The costs of shoplifting are not always absorbed by the targeted company, but instead may result in price increases.[2] However, losses from shoplifting, employee burglary and other causes of inventory loss contribute to a not very transparent problem description.[clarify]

A common slang term for shoplifting in Australia and the United States is "five-finger discount". In the US, it is often referred to as "jacking" or "racking", the UK as "nicking" or "chaving" and in Ireland as "stroking". Professional shoplifters or organized shoplifting groups are often referred to as "boosters".[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Economic impact and response from shops

Retailers report that shoplifting has significant effect on their bottom line, stating that about 0.6% of all inventory disappears to shoplifters. In 2001, it was claimed that shoplifting cost US retailers $25 million a day. Other observers, however, believe industry shoplifting numbers to be greatly exaggerated. Studies have found that over half of what is reported as shoplifting is either employee theft or fraud. Of course, in apprehended shoplifting, the merchandise is generally recovered by the retailers and there is often no loss to the store owner when the merchandise is surrendered to the store by the suspects. In addition in many states retailers have the right to recover civil damages to cover the cost of providing security.

Legal aspects

Shoplifting is considered a form of theft and is subject of prosecution.

Rights of store operators

In the state of California, and in most cases the rest of the United States and other countries, store employees and managers have certain powers of arrest. Store officials may detain for investigation (for a reasonable length of time), the person whom they have probable cause to believe is attempting to take or has unlawfully taken merchandise.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Generally, in the United States, the store employees who detain suspects outside of and inside the store premises are allowed by state statute limited powers of arrest and have the power to initiate criminal arrests or civil sanctions, or both, depending upon the policy of the retailer and the state statutes governing civil demands and civil recovery for shoplifting as reconciled with the criminal laws of the jurisdiction.[3]Template:Failed verification

Anti-shoplifting options

Shoplifting may be prevented and detected. Both options contribute to sound strategies.

Closed circuit television

CCTV monitoring is an important anti-shoplifting technology. Retailers focusing on loss prevention often devote most of their resources to this technology. Using CCTVs to apprehend shoplifters in the act requires full-time human monitoring of the cameras.

Sophisticated CCTV systems discriminate the scenes to detect and segregate suspicious behaviour from numerous screens and to enable automatic alerting. However, the attentiveness of the surveillance personnel may be threatened by false reliance on automatics.

CCTV is more effective if used in conjunction with EAS [How to reference and link to summary or text] as the EAS system will alert of a potential shoplifter and the video will provide ample proof to prosecute the shoplifter if the shoplifter is allowed to exit past checkout points or store premises with store merchandise that has not been paid for at final checkout points.

Electronic article surveillance

Electronic article surveillance (EAS) is second only to CCTV in popularity amongst retailers looking for inventory protection. [How to reference and link to summary or text] EAS refers to the security tags that are attached to merchandise and cause an alarm to sound on exiting the store. Regularly, even when an alarm does sound, a shoplifter walks out casually and is not confronted if no guards are present. This is due to the high number of false alarms, especially in malls, due to "tag pollution" whereby non-deactivated tags from other stores set off the alarm. This can be overcome with newer systems and a properly trained staff. Some new systems either do not alarm from "tag pollution" or they produce a specific alarm when a customer enters the store with a non-deactivated tag so that store personnel can remove or deactivate it so it does not produce a false alarm when exiting the store.

Loss prevention personnel

Loss prevention personnel will patrol the store acting as if they are real shoppers. They may try on merchandise and browse the racks, all the while looking for signs of shoplifting and looking for possible shoplifters. Many large retail companies use this technique, and will watch a shoplifter conceal an item then stop them after they have exited the store. These types of personnel must follow a strict set of rules, however, because of very high liability risks. [How to reference and link to summary or text]

Uniformed guards

The presence of uniformed guards acts as a deterrent to shoplifting activity and they are mostly used by high end retail establishments. However they are also used in stores like Target.

Exit inspections

Shoppers in some large stores are asked when leaving the premises to have their purchases checked against the register tape. In the US, shoppers are under no actual obligation to accede to such a search unless the employee has reasonable grounds to suspect shoplifting,[4][5] or if the customer has signed a membership agreement which stipulates that such inspections will be allowed, as is the case at Sam's Club and similar members-only stores.

Close customer service

Floor attendants are instructed to greet, follow, and offer help with customer shopping. Shoplifters are not comfortable with this attention and will go somewhere else where they can work unnoticed.

BOB mirrors

Bottom of basket mirrors are commonly used in grocery stores where the checkout lanes are close together and the cashier might be unable to see the entire basket to ensure payment of all items.

Locked merchandise

Some expensive merchandise will be in a locked case requiring an employee to get items at a customer's request. The customer is either required to purchase the merchandise immediately or it is left at the checkout area for the customer to purchase when finishing shopping. This prevents the customer from having a chance to conceal the item.

Another way of locking merchandise, especially popular in liquor stores, is to place a secure, store-administered hard-plastic cap on a regular bottle top. Once purchased the clerk will remove the cap with a store key. It is not otherwise easily removable.

Many stores also lock CDs and DVDs and Video games in locking cases, which can only be opened by the checkout operator once the item has gone through the checkout.

Dummy cases

Some stores will use dummy cases, also known as "dead boxes", where the box or case on the shelf is entirely empty and the customer will not be given the item they have paid for until after the transaction has been completed, usually by other Store staff. Some stores have been known to take this idea further by filling the dummy cases or boxes with a weight, similar to the weight of the actual item (usually employing dirt, or stones to achieve the effect).[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Personnel policy

The choice of store and security personnel can strongly affect the ability of shoplifters to succeed. All personnel must be trained in the techniques shoplifters use to steal merchandise and the proper actions to take.

Test shoppers

Test shopping is a strategy to test the detection means in a shop. Subject of testing is primarily the alertness of surveillance staff and of the staff operating in the shopping areas.

Famous cases

A famous legal case involving shoplifting occurred in 2001 when actress Winona Ryder was arrested for shoplifting at Saks Fifth Avenue department store in Beverly Hills, California. Ryder was eventually convicted of misdemeanor theft and vandalism and will be eligible for expungement of the conviction after finishing probation. Ryder was originally convicted by a jury of felony larceny/vandalism and was sentenced in a nationally televised California Superior Court proceeding in December 2002.[6] In 2003, Will & Grace actress Shelley Morrison (who played Rosario Salazar) was arrested for shoplifting at a Robinsons-May store in California; the charges were later dropped. In early 2006, former White House aide Claude Allen was arrested for an alleged return scam at a Target store in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Jean Eaton, while mayor of Albert Lea, Minnesota, was accused of stealing hundreds of dollars worth of clothing from Marshall Field's stores in Rochester, Edina and St. Cloud in an alleged clothing swap scam. Eaton had claimed that police acted illegally when they executed a search warrant that gathered evidence used to support a felony theft charge against her. [How to reference and link to summary or text] Eaton later reached a plea agreement with Olmsted County prosecutors to have the felony charges dropped, by entering into an adult diversion program, which includes restitution, and possible community service. [How to reference and link to summary or text]

NYC author Tao Lin published an account of shoplifting from an American Apparel in Manhattan and being caught. The story, which was published in Vice Magazine's second annual fiction issue[7], follows Lin as he is brought downstairs and handcuffed and then brought to the precinct and held in a cell for 5 hours.


Further reading


  • Hoffman, Abbie (2002), Steal This Book, New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, ISBN 978-156858217-7 
  • Budden, Michael Craig (1999), Preventing Shoplifting Without Being Sued, Westport, CT: Quorum Books, ISBN 978-156720119-2 
  • Cupchik, Will (1997), Why Honest People Shoplift or Commit Other Acts Of Theft, Toronto: W. Cupchik, ISBN 978-189634207-8 
  • Christman, John H. (2006), Shoplifting: Managing the Problem, Alexandria, VA: ASIS International, ISBN 978-188705664-9 
  • Hayes, Read (1991), Retail Security and Loss Prevention, Boston: Butterworth-Heinemann, ISBN 978-075069038-6 
  • Horan, Donald J. (1996), The Retailer's Guide to Loss Prevention and Security, Boca Raton, FL: CRC, ISBN 978-084938110-2 
  • Kimieckik, Rudolf C. (1995), Loss Prevention Guide for Retail Businesses, New York: Wiley, ISBN 978-047107636-0 
  • Sennewald, Charles A. (2000), Shoplifters vs Retailers: The Rights of Both, Chula Vista, CA: New Century Press, ISBN 978-189003518-1 
  • Thomas, Chris (2005), Loss Prevention in the Retail Business, Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, ISBN 978-047172321-9 


  • Cupchik, W., Atcheson D. J. (1983). Shoplifting: An Occasional Crime of the Moral Majority. Bulletin of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law 11 (4): 343–54.

See also

  • Civil recovery
  • Refund theft
  • Package pilferage
  • Kleptomania
  • Loss prevention
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