Amplify risk to reduce shoplifting

Shoplifter Stealing DenimWhen considering whether or not to shoplift, would-be offenders ask themselves four questions:

1. How likely is it that I will get caught?

2. How easy is it to do it?

3. What is the benefit to do it?

4. What will happen if I get caught?

According to professor Adrian Beck of the University of Leicester, the first factor — how likely am I to get caught? — is the one that influences offenders the most.

“Offenders will think through these factors and the ability for retailers to impact on these gets harder as you go down the list,” Beck said. “Retailers find it the easiest to impact on the first two factors and the first one is the most important.”

An expert in retail loss prevention, Beck has completed a comprehensive review of the published evidence to identify the most effective shoplifting deterrence methods based on a concept called ‘risk amplification’ — ways to make thieves think they are more likely to get caught.

To be effective, risk amplification needs to be visible. “You need to make sure that people are aware of the approaches you adopted to make them feel more at risk. It’s very challenging in modern retail spaces to do that,” Beck said. Beck also raised the possibility of identifying thieves with their own electronic devices to try and reduce the degree of anonymity afforded to shoplifters.

“We know that offenders like anonymity, it makes them feel bolder,” Beck said. “So if you can reduce their anonymity then that can increase their risk of being caught.

“There are lots of different ways that objects are beginning to identify individuals and through these objects people are beginning to leave these electronic trails behind them and we may be able to heighten their risk through using that.”

Beck’s research reviews more than 130 studies on the effectiveness of deterrent techniques adopted by retailers.

“For many years retailers have invested heavily in a wide range of technologies and approaches to try and stop people stealing from their stores, such as EAS tagging systems, CCTV technologies, signage, changes to store design, the use of security guards and store staff to name but a few,” Beck said.

Security and sales staff are regarded as highly effective ‘risk amplifiers’, however they need to know their role and need to be visible and mobile.

Store design and layout is a key facilitator to other risk amplifiers such as CCTV and sight of staff.

However the study found CCTV works for a little while then offenders learn to recognise it and work around it. There was also little evidence of the effectiveness of signage and shelf-based interventions.

Beck argues that managing loss in retail is as much about people as it is in technology. “Undoubtedly technologies can make a real difference,” Beck said. “They are an important tool in the loss prevention armoury. But we mustn’t not forget the important role people play in stopping losses as well.

“Research with shoplifters consistently highlights the deterrent impact security and store staff can have on their behaviour.” More engaged staff are less likely to steal and more likely to keep shelves stocked and approach potential shoplifters.

According to estimates from US-based National Association of Shoplifting Prevention, only one in 48 shoplifters are actually caught, highlighting the need for effective deterrence strategies.

Staff and opportunists account for the majority of theft, however Tony Course from Stoploss Logic points out these stats are based on the two per cent of shoplifters who are actually caught.

While important, deterrence strategies must also make sense financially. He cited an example of a large retailer which deployed a three person team as covert operators. Each cost $50 per hour to employ – $150 per hour spent to catch shoplifters.

“Most times if they catch a shoplifter like that the average value [of the item stolen] sits around $200,” Course said. Course said the retailer had since abandoned the expensive strategy and was looking to tackle the ongoing problem.

Inside Retail Academy event

Professor Adrian Beck and the team at Stoploss Logic will share more insights into loss prevention at Inside Retail Academy’s upcoming event: Navigating the New Profit Protection Landscape: Current Issues and Future Challenges, to be held in Sydney on August 9 and Melbourne on the August 11, 2016. For more information visit:


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