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8 shoplifting prevention tips for small businesses

A shoplifter looks over his shoulder as he pockets a small gadget in an electronics store.

Shoplifting is a serious problem for any retail business, but, like many issues, it affects small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) disproportionately. That’s mainly because SMBs have lower profit margins, making them more susceptible to cash flow issues.

A recent Forbes survey found that 79% of small retailers lose between $500 and $2,500 to theft each month. Another 10% said they lose more than $2,500 a month to shoplifting. That can be super painful for a small business where every penny counts.

While you may not have the resources to hire security personnel or wire the store with cameras and alarm systems, here are eight easy things you can do to minimize the possibility of theft in your small retail business.

Monitor your inventory

If you don’t know what you have in stock you won’t know that it’s gone either. In this case, what you don’t know can definitely hurt you and your business as you may be losing thousands of dollars to theft. If you only figure that out at the end of the year, you’ll be missing out on opportunities to stop the leak earlier. 

Perform frequent inventory checks to quickly identify products that tend to go missing under suspicious circumstances. These will likely be items that are small enough to be stuffed in a bag or a pocket without the thief getting noticed. Small, high-value items such as earbuds or even everyday items like coffee, razor blades, or lipsticks are especially appealing to shoplifters.

Once you’ve identified your most vulnerable products, make sure these items are always visible. Place them closer to the register or in a locked display that can only be opened by staff. Remember to never put these items at the back of the store or in a low-trafficked area.

Install anti-theft mirrors

A low-visibility area is a haven for shoplifters hoping to go unnoticed. These include the back of the store, areas behind large display shelves, or underlit corners. 

Eliminate this risk by strategically placing mirrors that allow staff to see what’s going on, even from a distance. The mere presence of the mirrors can deter potential thieves from trying anything funny.

Be friendly

Greet every customer walking through the door and offer your assistance. While this is a good service practice that can in itself increase sales, it also serves another purpose. 

It lets potential shoplifters know that you see them and are alert so they are less likely to get away with stealing. That’s already half the battle.

Train your staff

Unfortunately, shoplifting and retail go together and you’ll encounter it at some point or another. When you do, it’s important that you and your staff know how to handle it.

Create a clear policy on what to do in various scenarios. For example, how to approach a suspected shoplifter or when to alert the police or mall security. 

Inform your team about common shoplifting tactics and give them the tools they need to recognize and handle them. 

Some of the most common shoplifting tactics you should be aware of are: 

  • Working in pairs: One person distracts the staff with questions or requests while the other grabs stuff off the shelves.
  • Grab and run: The shoplifter rushes into the store grabbing whatever they can before rushing back out.  
  • Hiding products: A shoplifter might hide items in their bags, pockets, or even shoes. Sometimes they will even hide stolen items in a bag containing other products they actually paid for to eliminate suspicion.
  • Tag switching: A shoplifter tries to pay for an item after swapping the tag for that of a less expensive or discounted product. The switching often happens in hidden corners or inside dressing rooms, so be extra mindful when someone spends too much time out of sight.

Institute a bag policy

Some customers may not like it but sometimes the best way to deter shoplifters is by ensuring they don’t have an easy place to conceal their stolen items. Limiting the size of bags you allow in the store is a good place to start.

You can decide, for example, that purses or pouches are okay but backpacks need to be checked at the register. Alternatively, you can allow bags in the store but not inside dressing rooms.

Strategically place your register

Placing your register near the door means a staff member can get a clear view of anyone coming in and out. This alone can deter some shoplifters who are afraid to get caught as they know they won’t go unnoticed.

Schedule more staff for busy times

If your shop is particularly busy in the afternoons or on weekends, make sure you have enough staff working during those times. If you have just one person monitoring the store and managing the register during rush hour, they won’t be able to notice and stop shoplifters.

As we already mentioned, some thieves bank on understaffed stores by working in teams with one distracting the worker while the other pockets the goods. So, that extra salary may very well pay for itself by preventing shoplifting incidents.

Keep it tidy

A messy store is practically an open invitation for shoplifters as it makes it so much harder for staff to notice when items go missing. Make sure your shelves are organized and not overcrowded and that all items are where they should be.

A well-organized store also means it’s easier for customers to find what they’re looking for, making it more welcoming to honest shoppers. It’s a win-win. 

Make a habit of tidying up and putting items back in their place throughout the day and at closing time so you can start the next day fresh.

Stop shoplifting before it becomes a problem

While no business is 100% immune to shoplifting and theft, following these tactics can help reduce your exposure and minimize losses.

Looking for more smart ways to improve your business? Start by digitizing your business payments. 

Sign up for Melio to pay all your business bills in just a few clicks. You can choose a payment method that works for you without affecting your vendors and pay local and international suppliers from the same platform.

*This blog post is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended as financial advice.
**Melio does not provide legal, tax or accounting advice, and you should consult with a professional advisor before making any financial decisions.