Got Thieves? Customer Service is Key

JoyceWashnik_Giftbeat

By Joyce Washnik, Editor, Giftbeat

How would you feel if one of your longtime customers, someone you knew by name and were even affiliated with through your local chamber of commerce, turned out to be a thief?

It happened to a New York retailer, who says the woman stole from her for 10 years before she figured it out. Now the customer’s picture is posted on the store’s back door so employees see it every day. “We never ‘caught’ her, but  she never came in last season, so she must know we’re onto her,” she says.

Dealing with theft is an ongoing challenge for retailers, but it’s especially hard to catch when carried out by your store’s “best” or most frequent customers. Or by the well-dressed woman who chats with everyone and compliments your merchandise, only to drop items in her purse when your back is turned.                  Woman Shoplifting

A number of our retailers have installed camera systems to stay on top of would-be thieves, especially as their inventory has shifted to more desirable categories such as jewelry and apparel. Others have moved expensive items to protected cases, or even installed alarm gates.

But experts say you already have what you need to make thieves less likely to frequent your store: customer service. “Customer service is the first weapon in the anti-shoplifting arsenal,” says Bill Bregar of Loss Prevention Systems. “Shoplifters hate attention! To do what they do, they must have privacy, even for a few seconds. Customer service negates their ability to steal.”

Here, retailers offer additional ways to thwart thieves:

  • Cite local ownership. A Louisiana retailer confronted a shoplifter last year and asked, “Why do you hate my kids?” The customer looked stunned when the retailer explained to her that the jewelry and shirts in her purse were how she paid for her children’s education, food, clothing and house note. The thief drove off with the stolen items, but the next morning, they were all in a bag at the store door. Now, the retailer plans to post a large family portrait in each location so customers see who is behind the business.
  • “Can we hold those for you?” A South Carolina respondent doesn’t hesitate to approach someone who appears to be a shoplifter (or has stolen before) and say, “Would you like me to hold that at the counter for you?” It sends the message that you’re watching them.
  • Telltale signs. If a person is wearing a coat on a hot day, a New York retailer says to watch out: He or she could be a shoplifter. She also trains sales associates to look for other red flags, such as big purses/totes or trips back to the car for a “forgotten” item.

If you have discovered creative and effective ways to thwart retail theft, send us your story, we would appreciate hearing about and learning from your experiences.

Note: For more than 20 years, Giftbeat has been the “bible” for independent gift retailers who want to make smarter product selections, slash costs and increase profits. Each issue includes in-depth articles covering business news and trends; ideas and inspiration from your retail peers; “what’s hot” gift sales data; and interviews with industry experts. Best of all, Giftbeat brings you the expertise of successful retailers from across the country to help you get — and stay — ahead in today’s competitive marketplace. Visit Giftbeat to download your free sample issue. In addition, sign up today for editor Joyce Washnik’s free Top Tips & Picks alerts.