Shoplifting Prevention: Training Your Retail Team for Success

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With retail crime steadily rising over the past four years, and skyrocketing in New Zealand stores between 2022 and 2023, many of us in the retail trade are looking for solutions.

Regardless of whether you’re managing a retail chain, or a small independent store, retail theft is a serious problem across the country and the costs associated with it can quickly add up.

Although ram raids by determined criminals are difficult to stop, shoplifting is the style of retail crime that remains much more prevalent in Aotearoa. It’s shoplifting that our teams on the retail floor are most likely to encounter and have to deal with day-to-day.

Fortunately, there are a few simple steps that you can take to deter would-be shoplifters and equip your team to feel confident when they’re faced with shoplifting incidents.

We’ve spent years working with retailers to help them deter shoplifters and put their retail loss prevention plans into action. What we’ve learned is that the most effective strategies combine both security hardware (such as EAS gates, security tags and cameras), optimised store layouts, and some simple soft-skills that retail teams can use to head-off shoplifting incidents before they occur.

Here are our top five strategies which you can put into action to prevent shoplifting, while also keeping your stock, and your staff, safe and secure.


1. Begin With a Great Staff Induction

Preventing shoplifting with loss prevention training should be one of the standard items in your onboarding process for new members of staff.

Have a shoplifting prevention plan in place and familiarise each new team member with their role in it. If stores have a clear action plan they can put into place when they spot potential shoplifters – such as a code word and roles to play – they’ll work effectively as a group to prevent theft before it happens.

Maintain strong relationships with your team members to create a trusting environment where they feel comfortable bringing suspicious activity to light. Respecting and valuing retail staff goes a long way in motivating loyalty to you and your business. It also helps to ensure they’re less likely to become complicit in allowing shoplifting or internal theft.

It’s essential that every team member understands the consequences of shoplifting – both the financial impact on the business and also the way it can affect other employees, the store’s reputation and customer trust. Encourage store managers and area managers to talk about shrinkage in their daily team huddles, and make it a KPI for every store.

With this information top-of-mind for your team, they move from being unprepared for shoplifting, to making its management part of the everyday culture in their store.


2. Why Electronic Article Surveillance (EAS) is Important.

The simple presence of EAS gates in a store has been shown to reduce incidences of shoplifting in retail stores by 60-80%. This makes EAS systems a key part of any shoplifting prevention plan. When placed at the entrance and exit points of the store, these alarmed gates can be triggered by labels that have been attached to merchandise. It’s a visible deterrent to potential thieves, as well as a way to identify shoplifting as it takes place.

When using EAS gates, it’s also important to have a bag search policy in place. This outlines the legal requirements for searching customers who leave the store and is designed to protect both your team and the shoplifters by ensuring that everyone involved is aware of their rights. You’ll just need to ensure that your policy is visible to customers somewhere in the store, ideally around the cash registers.


3. A Warm Greeting Goes a Long Way

Security hardware is a great deterrent of shoplifting incidents, but the first and possibly most important action you can take is simply having your retail staff greet and engage with every customer who enters the store.

Vitag’s directors, Doug Todd and Ric van Weede, have a long history in the retail business, both in-stores and consulting on security.

“Always make it a priority to greet every customer with a smile, a warm hello, and an offer to assist or answer any questions. Your team should be doing that within 10 seconds of a customer entering the store, without any exceptions.” says Doug. “Get involved and connect with the customer. Even if they’re on their mobile when they walk in (a potential distraction tactic), still extend the same courtesy with a smile and a wave, making sure you make eye-contact.”

After they’ve made the initial greeting, staff should find ways to make themselves busy, always aware of where the customers are in the store. In his GEAR system of customer service, Dan Mann of The Mann Group trains retail staff to “create a welcoming environment by being busy but looking up” – divining reasons to buzz around the store and the potential shoplifter, without them feeling like you’re hovering.

In addition to providing excellent customer service, these tactics can serve to discourage potential thieves. When individuals know they’ve been noticed and are being observed, they’re less likely to go through with their plans and will move onto other stores that present an easier target.


3. Create a Light, Tidy & Welcoming Environment

Keeping your store tidy and welcoming is not just a way to deter shoplifters, but it makes a positive impression on your customers too!

Potential shoplifters feel safer and more confident when people from outside the store can’t see what’s going on, or when they can get into areas on the sales floor where they can’t be observed easily.

On your checklist should be:

• CLEAR WINDOWS. Try not to block your windows – let the light in and allow passers by a view into the store.

• CREATE CLEAR LINES OF SIGHT. Arrange your fixtures to give you clear lines of sight through the different zones within the store – getting rid of any hidden corners.

• KEEP VALUABLES IN YOUR EYELINE. Keep your valuable items, smaller items, or things that have high resale potential for shoplifters in the most visible areas of the store. Shoplifters will be aware that they can be seen wherever they are.

• TIDY, TIDY, TIDY. A disorganised store makes life easy for shoplifters. By organizing products neatly you can more easily spot any missing items and shoplifters will be less inclined to disturb neat shelves or hide items around the store to pick up later.

• DIVIDE THE SHOP FLOOR INTO ZONES FOR STAFF: Create zones that your retail team need to cover within the store, and roster to ensure you have enough team members to cover each zone at any one time (including break times). For instance, your zones could be the checkouts, entrance area, a mid-area, individual departments, and changing rooms.


4. Put Anti-Theft Tools in Place

Technology can be an effective tool in preventing shoplifting – and retail security systems have come a long way from basic security cameras, security staff and mirrors!

RFID tags can be used to detect items in different areas of the store, such as the changing rooms, and can trigger alarms if they are taken out of the store without being paid for. RFID is also a key tool in helping to reduce employee theft or identify inventory shrinkage issues and administrative errors.

Smart keys can be used to secure high value items, with locking systems that give staff access to all locks in the store with a single digital key (as opposed to relying on a bunch of keys).

And then there are secure display systems such as OnePod by InVue. These streamlined, tamper-proof units showcase your valuable stock and enable customers to interact with products, while also keeping display stock safe.


5. Build Relationships with Customers & Know the Signs of a Shoplifter

Building relationships with customers can help prevent shoplifting by making individuals feel like they are part of a community and have a personal connection with your staff. Train your floor staff to focus on customer experience – engaging with customers in a friendly, personal manner as part of their standard retail service.


This level of interaction with customers will also help staff on the shop floor to identify suspicious behaviour before it becomes a problem. Train them to look for “red flags” such as nervousness, fidgeting, and avoiding eye contact. Teach them how to approach customers in a friendly and non-threatening way when they spot warning signals, to deter shoplifting without coming across as accusatory.

Other signs to watch for could be:

• If someone is wearing an excessive amount of clothing for the weather conditions.
• A customer is paying a lot of attention to your employees’ behavior – this could be a sign that they’re waiting until your employees’ backs are turned.
• Carrying a backpack or extra-large bag.
• “Accidentally” triggering the security gate.

Most importantly: Keep Your Team Safe

Stock is replaceable, lives are not.

Although technology and customer service can go a long way towards preventing shoplifting, it’s important to make sure your team is well trained in how to handle potentially dangerous situations. If someone does try to steal from the store, remind your staff that their personal safety comes first and they should never put themselves in danger. Stress the importance of remaining calm and not engaging with shoplifters – asking them to leave and calling the police should be priority. They should never pursue or chase them, no matter how tempting it may be.


If in Doubt, Talk to Vitag

Shoplifting can have a major impact on a retailer’s bottom line, but we’re here to help you minimise it. By implementing these tips, you can help prevent shoplifting and protect your profits. Remember to train your team, create a welcoming environment, use technology, and build relationships with customers. With these strategies in place, you can create a safer and more profitable retail environment – one that’s more enjoyable for your customers to shop and your team to work in.

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