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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.
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.
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.
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