Retail Security - Theft Prevention

Retail Security - Theft Prevention

May 18, 2011 - J. Singletary

There's an old saying, "Locks only keep out the honest people." In retail, this is absolutely the truth. There have been a lot of studies into the behaviors of people that commit crimes such as vandalism and theft. These studies provide valuable insights as to practical ways we can prevent and discourage theft at our retail location. You've read the facts. Businesses sustain billions of dollars in losses due to retail theft every year. What's more important is that when your business sustains a loss, you're the one that's out money. These losses are very significant these days, as compared to, say 15 years ago. With the advent of today's internet consumers, competition among retailers, mark-up (where existent, as there are some items which are sold at cost or below, just so they can make money on accessories, as loss leaders) are to the bone. Additional losses can make or break a store's ability to survive.

The Factors That Create Theft: Opportunity, Desire, and Ability

Let's look at the three factors which create a theft; Opportunity, Desire, and Ability. When you have those three ingredients, the perfect storm is in place for theft. The bad news is we can only control one of those. We cannot control a person's will to steal from us. And, we cannot control their ability to steal. Remember, locks only keep out the honest people. We can do a lot though, to control the opportunities we leave for people to steal from us.


Opportunities abound, an unlocked door, a poorly lit area, blind spots in your location, or not enough staff to cover the entire floor. An entire science has sprung up addressing those situations, called CPTED, (pronounced "Septed") or, "Crime Prevention through Environmental Design" in which the full goal is to design an environment in which the opportunities for criminal behavior are reduced or removed. Although this takes place at the blueprint and design level, there are still several things that we can use to make our locations less inviting for opportunistic thieves. For example, things that are in one's line-of-sight. Stop for a moment, and put yourself in the shoes of someone that wants to steal from you. If YOU were going to steal from your store, how would you do it? Look at areas in your store. Are there blind spots? How might you reduce them? Are there banners and posters or tall display racks that are obscuring your ability to spot a theft in progress? Looking at the floor plan of your location might reveal easy to fix problem spots. Moving that high dollar item to another location might make a big difference.

Cameras Can Deter Theft

Cameras may seem like a great deterrent to crime, but the truth is, studies show that they have a limited effect on it. Cameras are still important. Cameras document crimes. A crime that is well documented has a better chance of being solved and the offender(s) being brought to justice. Cameras are not a first line of defense, but are very important as an overall part of your security plan. Do use them where items that are most at risk are. Make sure that you have a strong camera line of sight and use a resolution that can capture details of a suspect. Multiple cameras are best. Never use dummy cameras, as many criminals have learned to tell the difference between real and fake, and the good ones will see your "security" efforts as a joke, and rob you for spite.

Security Guards offer a Visible Deterrent

Human assets are very important. This can range from uniformed guards that act as a visual deterrent to those who are dressed in plain-clothes who understand the human psychology and can spot "tells" or unconscious behaviors of those who are about to steal from you, are invaluable. Your own staff can help as well. Instituting policies such a no handbag policy, or a backpack check-in at the front desk, can serve both as a message that you are serious and aggressive about preventing theft, as well as prevent "snatch and stuff" thefts of items.

Signage Can Help to Deter Theft

Signage informing customers that they are being watched by cameras can have a mixed effect. It could make people feel intruded upon, and on the other hand it could be enough of a hint to encourage small time thieves to find another place to ply their trade. It could also challenge them to find the weak spot in your camera coverage, while leaving you with a false sense of security, so implement these ideas only in conjunction with other preventative measures. Tools such as spider wraps, sensors and magnetic strips are somewhat effective, but only in place with a greater risk management strategy.

Retail Theft is Best Prevented by Layering Approaches

Working from an approach that removes opportunities involves several measures. A layered approach involving equipment, people, policies and design, has shown to have the greatest impact in reducing crimes of theft. There are many ways to go about this which far exceed the scope of this one article, so feel free to talk to security professionals, concerning your needs and budgets. Not only will you save money in the long run, but you'll also make your business safer for your customers and employees.

Backed by more than two decades of law enforcement and security experience, Centron Security, a Houston security services company, has the expertise to meet your retail security guard needs.

For more information or to schedule an appointment, please call 281-256-8130 or visit us on-line at:

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