5 Ways to Reduce Small Business Theft

Retail theft one of the biggest problems facing retailers today. Here are 5 practical steps small business owners can take to reduce retail theft in their store.

1. Educating Employees

Retail-theft specialists agree that educating employees is one of the most significant steps a business owner can take to reduce their retail theft problem. Educating employees about retail theft does two things:

It makes all loyal employees aware of the problem and prompts them to be pro-active about reporting incidents ( both customers and other employees)

It serves as a deterrent to those employees who are stealing from the business

According to the 2012-2013 Global Retail Theft Barometer (GRTB), employee theft accounts for nearly one-third of retail theft, right around 32%. Much of this can be eliminated simply by alerting employees to the fact that management is committed to reducing retail theft. This also encourages self-policing among employees.

Most employees who engage in retail theft do so by slipping an extra item to a friend free of charge (“sweethearting”), or taking an item here or there for themselves. Rarely are they hardened criminals. In many cases, a little deterrent is all that is needed to significantly reduce employee theft. Employee education lets employees know that retail theft is being taken seriously and makes them think twice before they steal again.

2. Putting Up Shoplifting Signs

According to the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention (NASP), 73% of shoplifting incidents are not premeditated. What this means, is that shoplifters are primarily acting on impulse. Provide deterrence for the impulse and shoplifting will decrease.

Putting up shoplifting signs is an easy and cheap deterrence option. Joe Frawley, former Police Sergeant at Cambridge PD and owner of Eastern Security Inc., recommended putting up signs like the one pictured.

This is important for two reasons:

  1. Deterrence – Since the majority of shoplifting incidents are impulse occurrences, shoplifting signs tell shoplifters that the store is taking shoplifting seriously, discouraging them from stealing.
  2. Liability – If a store owner ever plans to actually prosecute shoplifters, the store needs to posted with signs like the one above, that specifically state that shoplifters will be prosecuted. This gives the store owner legal recourse to prosecute, should the need arise.
3. Installing Security Mirrors

If potential shoplifters feel like nobody is watching them, they are much more likely to act on their impulse to take an item. Therefore, store owners can reduce retail theft in their stores by increasing visual accountability for their customers. One way to do that, is with security mirrors.

Security mirrors are cheap, generally $20-$50 per mirror. When placed in strategic locations, mirrors can give cashiers and other employees visual access to areas of the store that they could not see otherwise.

4. Rearranging Store to Promote Visual Accountability

One thing that many store owners overlook, is how the actual layout of their store enables shoplifting and employee theft.

Consider your displays and aisle arrangements. Is there clear visual accountability that you and your team can see of your displays?  A customer or employee could grab something and nobody would ever know… unless you create a store environment where they can’t do this.

The key is to create displays that are arranged to prevent shoplifting. To help, consider these three general rules when arranging a store to reduce retail theft:

  1. Keep the top of store displays chest high or below whenever possible. Following this rule ensures that there is at least some kind of visual accountability. Waist high or lower is even better, although it can end up being more inconvenient for customers, which is something to consider. The lower a store’s displays, the more exposed shoplifters will feel.
  2. Arrange Aisles so that they are perpendicular or diagonal to checkout area/cash register. By arranging aisles to be either perpendicular or diagonal to the checkout area/cash register, business owners ensure that their sales clerk has a clear visual sight line down multiple rows of displays. This will not completely prevent or deter all shoplifters, but it will reduce theft.
  3. Put Frequently Stolen Items in open or busier areas of the store. Often, there are specific items in a store that are stolen more frequently, generally items that are small and valuable, like electronics. Proper inventory management procedure will help a store owner to figure out what these specific items are in their store. Taking these items and putting them in busier and more open areas of the store make them harder to steal without being seen. More traffic means more accountability and less theft.
5. Basic Video Surveillance System

A more expensive but effective option, is to put a video surveillance system of some kind in your store. Video surveillance is a great visual deterrent and lets potential customers/employees who are considering theft that they are being watched.

If you purchase a video surveillance system, consider these tips:

Purchase a Large Camera – In general, unless a small business owner is willing to invest thousands of dollars in a high-end security system, video surveillance will not actually provide identification of faces. It is primarily there for visual deterrence, and a powerful one at that. The larger the camera, the more uncomfortable a potential thief will feel.

Make Sure You Have a Monitor – As illustrated in the picture above, a camera/monitor combo sends a pretty clear message. It says, “You see yourself on camera? So do we.” A monitor allows the potential thieves to see themselves on camera, something that goes a long way to squelching impulse shoplifting/thievery.

Another popular anti-theft technology, frequently used in clothing stores, is RFID tags. You can read more RFID tags in this article by Fit Small Business.


Although some stores may benefit from higher-end surveillance options, most small businesses can significantly reduce retail theft fairly cheaply by using all or some of the 5 options explained above.

Contributed by Jason Rueger, a staff writer for Fit Small Business, a “how to” website for small business owners. In addition to his writing, Jason is potter who sells his work on Etsy and local craft fairs.

Photo Credit: Provided with permission to use by



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