Rolling for Initiative is a weekly column by Scott Thorne, PhD, owner of Castle Perilous Games & Books in Carbondale, Illinois and instructor in marketing at Southeast Missouri State University.  This week, Thorne shares his experience and a great tip to prevent shoplifting.

We had a shoplifiting incident the weekend after Thanksgiving.  A pair of teenagers, while not regulars, were familiar enough with the store that they knew a few of the staff by name and, more importantly, knew the blind spots in our security system.  Though the staff kept an eye on them, the store was quite busy, especially while they were here.  The staff never actually saw them take anything and likely wouldn't have actually noticed any stock missing, save that they grabbed a box of Butterfingers, which was visible on camera but not directly from the cash wrap, on the way out.  A couple of candy bars we probably wouldn't have noticed, but a whole box missing from the snack display, that's a pretty good giveaway that something happened.  After noticing that, we reviewed the security recordings from both the interior and exterior cameras and, while the cameras didn't pick up them actually stealing anything, it showed them deliberately moving into blind spots and squatting down outside the building to put things in backpacks.  Needless to say, we filed a report, turned the video over to the police and posted screen captures of the pair in the office for employees to view.  We thought about posting the pictures on Facebook, not accusing them of anything, just asking if anyone recognized either of them.  However, the police called that a bad idea, since they are likely minors and subject therefore to more legal protection than adults.

According to the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention, a quarter of your customers have shoplifted.  Maybe not from you but, according to studies, 25% of those between the age of 12 and 16 have shoplifted at least once.  Over 70% of the time, a person you catch shoplifting has shoplifted before (again, maybe not from your store but from somewhere), knows other people who shoplift and, once caught, 25% of those caught say they will likely shoplift again.  Shoplifting is big business, with approximately 550,000 shoplifting incidents taking place in the US every day, with daily losses amounting to over $35 million (  Those are some pretty staggering numbers.

The staff made one huge mistake in handling the situation by not speaking to them when they passed by.  Shoplifters don't like it when people pay attention to them; that's one reason we have our security monitors in customer view, so they know we can see them (we are adding more cameras to cover the blind spots our shoplifters took advantage of).  I've even seen research showing that putting a cardboard standee of a police officer near the entrance to the store reduces shoplifting by 5 to 10%.  Though they did walk by the pair on a couple of occasions, they did not speak to them.  That's important as it shows the shoplifter you are aware of them.  According to everything I have read about preventing shoplifting that is the number one thing staff can do in order to dissuade a shoplifter.  Shoplifters don't like to work in stores where staff pays attention to and acknowledges them. Always speak to people when they come into your store and at least once more while they are there,   even if you just say "Hi" or "Are you finding everything OK?" (Yes, I know it's not the best question but better than nothing).  It is something your sales people should be doing, and as we found out, doing a better job of it can not only make sales but save money and product.

The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflct the views of the editorial staff of