Shoplifting Essay

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Shoplifting   involves  the  theft  of  goods  from  a retailer.  It is also  referred  to  as shrinkage  in the retail industry. It usually involves concealing products by the person  or his or her accomplice and  leaving the store  without paying. Some variants  of  shoplifting   include  swapping   the  price labels of goods, also called price switching; asking for  fraudulent  refunds;   returning  clothes   after they have been worn, or “wardrobing”; and “grazing,” or eating a store’s products while shopping.

According to Ronald Clarke, the Rutgers University criminologist, research shows that shoplifters usually steal “hot  products” that  are “CRAVED,” an acronym  for “concealable, removable,  available,  valuable, enjoyable,  and  disposable.”  Shoplifting   not  only  has  been  shown   to affect  the  offender   but  also  is  a  strain   on  the resources  of  the  police  and  courts,  adds  to  the retailer’s  security  expenses  and  to higher  costs of goods  for  the  customers, and  costs  communities lost dollars in sales taxes. Some important statistics about  shoplifting  are  provided  followed  by some suggestions  about  how  such  acts  can  be prevented.

Shoplifting  Statistics

The National Association for Shoplifting Prevention predicts that more than $13 billion worth  of goods (equivalent  to $35 million per day) are stolen from retailers in the United States every year. More than 10  million  individuals  have  been  caught  shoplifting in the  past  5 years.  Shoplifters  steal  from  all types  of stores,  including  department stores,  specialty  stores,  supermarkets, drug  stores,  discount stores, music stores, convenience  stores, and thrift shops. In the United States, shoplifting increases during  Christmas season, and arrest  rates increase during spring break. Men and women are about equally as often likely to shoplift. About a quarter of shoplifters  are kids, while the rest of them  are adults.  Fifty-five percent  of adults  claim  to  have begun shoplifting  in their teens. The average shoplifter first does it at the age of 10. Such activities peak during  adolescence and decline thereafter.

Shoplifting is usually not a premeditated crime—73  percent  of  offenders  typically  do  not plan to steal in advance. In many cases, shoplifters buy  and  steal  merchandise during  the  same  visit. The  amount stolen  typically  varies  from  $2  to $200  per incident.  Eighty-nine  percent  of the kids say  that  they  know  other  kids  who  shoplift;  66 percent of them hang out with those who have committed  such transgressions. Shoplifters  are caught  on average only once in 48 times that  they steal. They are turned  over to the police in just half of the times that  they are caught.

Most  of the  shoplifters  are “nonprofessionals” who  steal  not  out  of  criminal  intent  but  out  of financial  necessity,  and  in response  to  social  and financial  pressures  in their  lives. The thrill  of getting away  without being caught  often  gives them the  rush  or  a high  feeling; for  many,  this  is even more important than the merchandise. Oftentimes, drug  addicts  take  up  shoplifting  to  support their habits, and in turn,  they find the act of shoplifting just as addictive. Among those  caught  shoplifting, 57  percent  of adults  and  33  percent  of juveniles find it difficult to kick the habit of shoplifting. Habitual shoplifters  commit theft on an average of 1.6 times a week.

Most   nonprofessionals  do  not  commit   other types of crimes. Approximately 3 percent  of shoplifters  are  “professionals”  who   steal  solely  for resale  or  profit  as a business;  they  are,  however, responsible  for only 10 percent  of the total  dollar losses.

Antishoplifting Options

Stores  try  to  detect  and  prevent   shoplifting   by adopting  a  combination  of  several  approaches. The most  common  approach is to use closed circuit television to apprehend the violators. This technology  is best used in conjunction with electronic article surveillance systems. While the electronic article surveillance system warns the potential shoplifter,  the closed circuit  television  is used  to  provide  evidence  for  prosecution. Radio frequency  identification is mostly  used  by major retailers  to manage  their inventory,  but it can also be used as an antitheft device. If a product with an active radio  frequency identification tag passes the exit scanner,  it sets off an alarm.

In   addition  to   these   technological  devices, human personnel are also employed to reduce shrinkage.  Loss prevention  personnel,  also known as store  detectives,  patrol  the  store  pretending  to be actual shoppers while looking for possible shoplifters.  In  other  instances,  uniformed guards are used by bigger stores  to act as a deterrent to shoplifting.  Similarly, some stores use the policy of exit inspections,  during which customers  are asked to   have   their   purchases   checked   against   their receipt before leaving the premises. Keeping expensive merchandise in  a  locked  case  and  requiring employees to get them at a customer’s request also help reduce the occurrences  of shoplifting.  Several stores, such as Target,  have employees working  at the fitting rooms who count the number  of clothes an individual  takes  into  fitting  rooms  and  ensure that   they  come  out   with   the  same  number   of clothes. Finally, putting up signs warning about  the consequences  of shoplifting  or signs about  the use of cameras  throughout the  store  also  deter  individuals from shoplifting.

Even though  shoplifting  is widely despised and discouraged, some,  like  the  Canadian magazine Adbusters, consider  it to  be a morally  defensible act of corporate sabotage.


  1. Bradford, John and Rufino “Shoplifting: Is There a Specific Psychiatric  Syndrome?”  Canadian Journal of Psychiatry: Revue  Canadienne  de Psychiatrie, v.28/4 (1983).
  2. Cameron, Mary The Booster  and the Snitch: Department Store Shoplifting. New York: Free Press of Glencoe, 1964.
  3. Cox, Anthony , Dena Cox, Ronald  D. Anderson,  and George P. Moschis. “Research Note:  Social Influences on Adolescent  Shoplifting—Theory, Evidence, and Implications  for the Retail Industry.” Journal of Retailing,  v.69/2 (1993).
  4. Cox, Dena, Anthony Cox, and George P. Moschis. “When  Consumer Behavior Goes Bad: An Investigation of Adolescent  Shoplifting.” Journal of Consumer Research, v.17/2 (1990).
  5. Klemke, Lloyd W. “Exploring Juvenile Shoplifting.” Sociology & Social Research, v.67 (1982).
  6. Klemke, Lloyd W. The Sociology of Shoplifting: Boosters and Snitches Today.  Westport, CT: Praeger, 1992.
  7. Kraut, Robert  “Deterrent and Definitional Influences on Shoplifting.” Social Problems, v.23 (1975).
  8. McNees, Patrick,  Daniel S. Egli, Rebecca S. Marshall, John F. Schnelle, and Todd  R. Risley. “Shoplifting Prevention:  Providing Information Through Signs.” Journal of Applied  Behavior Analysis, v.9/4 (1976).
  9. Shteir, Rachel. The Steal: A Cultural History  of Shoplifting. New York: Penguin Press, 2011.
  10. Steffensmeier, Darrell  J. and Robert  M. Terry. “Deviance and Respectability:  An Observational Study of Reactions  to Shoplifting.” Social Forces, v.51/4 (1973).

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