How to handle shoplifters.

I read a story not too long ago (in a book) about a woman who was shopping in a store that was having a big sale. She was taking a whole bunch of items to the counter and buying a whole bunch of things.

Apparently, something slipped in her purse or something and the clerk accused her of shoplifting (quite publicly). Needless to say, the customer got quite embarrassed and offended. When she got home, she called the store’s manager, who didn’t seem to care and did nothing. The lady never went back to the store and told a whole bunch of people about her terrible experience.

So, how do you avoid a situation like that? What do you do if you think someone is shoplifting? There is no good way. However, it’s important to try and do it the best way you can.

A little note: I have no idea what the statistics are about people accused of shoplifting versus those who actually are. I’ve never worked in retail – these observations are just what I think would be best from a customer service perspective. The closest experience I have to this are dealing with orders that may fraudulent (similar concept).

Here are some tips on how to handle people you think are shoplifting.

  • Just think. Don’t know. In order to make the experience as good as possible, you need to assume that not all of your customers are criminals or how to cheat you. You can have a hunch, but you should never be sure a customer is shoplifting.
  • Don’t make it public. It is completely wrong to make it public that a customer is shoplifting. If you think he or she is, ask the customer to come to the side or go up to them and quietly say something.
  • Sugarcoat it. You can always say something like “Did you forget to pay for that?”, “I think you forgot an item”, etc. Granted, none of these are perfect, but it is a better than saying “You shoplifter!”
  • Mention shoplifter programs. If you are pretty sure the person was trying to shoplift, you can mention about how many problems with shoplifters you have and how they don’t realize how much trouble they can get in, and so forth. I’m not sure how effective that method might be, but it seems like a subtle way to mention it.
  • Train clerks to watch for it. Train all of your clerks and security guards to follow “customer service friendly” procedures for dealing with shoplifters.
  • Watch the numbers. If you notice that 70% of people you accuse are actually shoplifters, you may need to be a bit harsher. However, if it’s just 10%, you should act accordingly.

What are your suggestions? How have you dealt with shoplifters in the past?

3 Responses to “How to handle shoplifters.”

  1. Chris said:

    Apr 19, 07 at 9:19 am

    I once worked for Barnes & Noble and our number one shoplifted item was copies of the Bible!

  2. Service Untitled said:

    Apr 19, 07 at 5:43 pm


    Now that’s ironic.

  3. Max said:

    Apr 20, 07 at 12:06 am

    I would add another one to the list: “Do not treat all your customers as potential shoplifters”. It is very common in retail that shops troubled by shoplifters take all kinds of annoying practices like making all customers leave their bags near the entrance, or make employees follow customers around the shop.
    Given the current state of the surveillance technology it is easy to protect your business without embarrassing your customers with presuming that all of them are trying to rob you.