Thou Shalt Not Steal
I'll admit I have been naive about shoplifting. Our retail store is located on the sleepy Garden Island of Kauai. It's a small community where everybody seems to know everybody.
So the fact that I trusted most of my customers to be honest will not come as a surprise. I also thought that we did a pretty good job of policing the store.
My trust began to evaporate after we implemented a few simple policies to keep an eye on things. First, we installed a DVR camera system that could be monitored remotely over the internet.
We also really started making sure the ring and earring racks were completely full, with no holes. When something sold, we replaced the item immediately with more merchandise.
Once we did these two things, it was like the thieves came out of the woodwork! I discovered the first step in my recovery had to do with admitting there was a problem.
Knowing when things were being stolen alerted us to the fact that people really were stealing. Having the DVR allowed us to see who they were and how they did it. It doesn't feel any better knowing I've been hoodwinked, but it does help to know what to expect the next time.
Watching a mother with three kids casually palm six pair of earrings, then grab a ring on the way out makes my blood boil, but it also showed us that the thief is usually not the person you suspect. It's the one you would never imagine would steal.
We have nice margins, so the overall effects of shoplifting has not crippled us, but every time someone steals from us I am reminded that it comes directly out of my bottom line. Vendors, employees, FedEx, and the electric company all get paid before I do. I get what's left over.
Now we have taken several steps that seem to have had an effect on the shrinkage. Each customer is greeted with eye contact. Making that connection seems to have an impact.
When there are customers in the store, all side-work is put away. We circulate out on the floor, rearranging things, following up with customers. Mainly we try to get out from behind the counter!
We also check the racks every so often when customers are around, to make sure they are full. This gives us a point of reference if and when something goes missing. When we think something is stolen, we can quickly review on the DVR, often within a few minutes of the theft.
Finally, we learn from our mistakes and identify problem customers. This means that we ask those we know to have stolen in the past (but couldn't prove it well enough for court) not to come back.
Politely telling a customer they are no longer welcome in the shop is never a pleasant experience, but it beats having to watch them like a hawk and hoping they don't steal something during a moment of inattention.
If you have any tips or thoughts on shoplifting that you think others might benefit from, please email me and I will add them to a future email.