Caught A Shoplifter? Now What? To Prosecute Or Not

Do you go fishing? Have you ever caught a fish and had to decide if you were going to keep it or not? Sometimes there are limits to the number of a certain breed of fish you can catch and keep in a day. There are also size limits that are imposed on certain species, for example; a Large Mouth Bass might have to be fourteen inches long or longer in order to keep it in South Carolina. There are even seasons when certain fish cannot be kept if caught. As an example in Texas, according to texas.gov, Red Snapper season in federal waters closed on August 22 in 2018. In some situations where you can keep fish but only certain quantities you may have to decide if you are going to catch and release and keep the larger fish or take a chance and just reach your limit for the day. Shoplifting can be somewhat the same. You were wondering how fishing was going to tie in to Retail Loss Prevention weren’t you? 

     Now I am not talking about catch and release because a shoplifter does not fit the right height and weight limits. I am talking about whether a store management team makes a decision if they are going to prosecute shoplifters if they are caught period. Some store managers make a decision not to prosecute anyone for theft. The reasons are varied but may include the potential danger involved with stopping a crook or the risk of making a stop and the suspect does not have any merchandise (or says they do not and makes the manager question the decision to stop).  Sometimes the decision not to prosecute rests on a dollar amount. A shoplifter might be stopped for an item under $20 but will not be prosecuted for that particular theft. Let’s explore why such decisions are made.

     One of the major reasons for not prosecuting shoplifters, especially when the value of the item falls under a specific price point is that the amount of time spent on the case far exceeds what the value of the item was in the first place. If you choose to stop a shoplifter you will want the manager to write up some kind of report of the incident. In Loss Prevention we have incident reports to complete. There is also the time spent by the manager waiting with the shoplifter in an office for the police to show up. Depending on the jurisdiction police may issue a citation to appear in court for the alleged crime or they may take the suspect into custody. Follow all of this up with time spent in court prosecuting the case. By the time all is said and done a prosecuted case can be more costly to the merchant than just recovering the product and letting the suspect go.

     Before you think that you have made up your mind on the direction you are going to take I would like you to think about the other perspective on this subject. Why would you decide to prosecute a shoplifting case? If you catch and detain someone, decide to release the suspect and they get into an accident you could potentially be held responsible. That is unlikely but has to be taken into consideration. If the suspect is a juvenile and you detain them you absolutely cannot release them on their own. Yes, you could choose to release them to a parent or guardian but there may be reasons it would be better to contact the police. I have seen my share of irate parents and later wished I had released the child to authorities.

     While it may not seem like an important reason for you to prosecute a shoplifter I would ask you to consider one more thing. Each time a shoplifter gets caught, cries and gets cut loose with a promise not to steal again it is another crime that there is no record of being committed. Prosecuting a thief may not make a significant difference to you but in the big picture a shoplifter with no official police record is a shoplifter with a clean record. That minimizes any penalty they may get when they are finally caught and prosecuted. Shoplifters who get away with their crimes continue to hurt retailers until they do get caught and prosecuted. 

     Catch and release when fishing may or may not be your choice. Prosecuting a shoplifter or not is up to you. Safety, efficiency, productivity and ramifications must all be taken into consideration. Ultimately the choice is up to the store owner. Just remember, whatever you decide to do be consistent and be fair with everyone you deal with.

An Investment For Your Business

When new legislation passes in many states, the array of issues that come to new elected officials varies considerably.  

Shoplifting laws are one of the many topics legislators review to make sure the punishment is appropriate.  Businesses and small businesses in general need to be protected by the laws of the country to ensure the economic growth of a locality, the state and ultimately the country.

The punishment for shoplifting varies according to the state and in some instances the county where the business is located.  Laws are put in place to make sure these silent crimes are not committed with impunity, and the shoplifter is prosecuted according to the law. 

Unfortunately, many of these shoplifting incidents are not prosecuted for  many different reasons. Ultimately, it is up to the business to decide whether to prosecute the shoplifter or not.  As a business owner, they have to consider the costs associated with prosecuting shoplifters as a rule and whether it is economically sound to do so.

A lawyer’s fee for an hour or to prosecute a case depends on the region, the experience and the complexity of a case but, either way, their fee does not come cheap. 

 As a business owner, is it practical or economically possible for you to have a privately retained attorney? Is it your business practice to prosecute a shoplifter regardless of the quantity they steal?  There are many questions one needs to answer, and many options you have to make as a business owner regarding shoplifting.

Shoplifting in the United States have become a multi billion nightmare for businesses in the retail industry.  From the casual shoplifter to organized retail rings, the losses the retail industry suffers are staggering.  The small stores or shops in this industry have to fight and stop loses because their livelihood depends on their ability to stop the shoplifters. The profit margin from sales is too small for them to ignore the problem or to neglected it for too long.

For many of the small retail businesses, a loss prevention system that allows them to protect their merchandise and profits is one of the best ways to invest in their business.  Big retail chains have for many years now invested in loss prevention systems to help them minimize the losses and help them prevent shoplifting and employee theft. 

A loss prevention system that gives the employer or management of the store up to the minute information about the merchandise , allows them to do their job more efficiently and helps them prevent theft is an investment that will pay off sooner than you think.

Tips That I Wish I Had Learned Before Entering Loss Prevention      

Loss Prevention is a wonderful career choice that can lead to other positions in retail. There are, however tips I wish I had known before I began the job that would have prepared me for the adventure I was about to embark on. I started out in a Loss Prevention Associate position after spending four years as a U.S. Air Force Law Enforcement Specialist and another 2 ½ years earning a Bachelor’s Degree.  I was offered the position and to be honest I went into it with the mindset that this was a Law Enforcement position in civilian clothing. There was nothing that really dissuaded me from the notion as I was taught to catch shoplifters, use closed circuit television cameras and electronic article surveillance equipment. I assisted with employee theft cases but these were few and far between. It was not until later when I had been a Loss Prevention Manager for several years before I started to understand the real role of Loss Prevention in a store. With this is mind there are some things that I would like share with those entering the profession that can be eye opening and prepare them for the job ahead.

  • You are not the retail police – Unfortunately it is easy to fall into the trap of believing you are an arm of the police department. You aren’t. You can and should build strong partnerships with police but you are not protecting the community. Your job is to make your store profitable. You need to learn about stock shortage and all of the ways it happens. Yes, you need to learn to identify, prevent and maybe catch shoplifters. You also need to add to that knowledge how employee theft occurs, how to identify it and investigate it. You also need to understand vendor processes, how to read invoices and credits. You should spend time learning and stocking freight and where operational shortage takes place. Become intimately familiar with cashiering procedures and cash office functions. Each of these areas of responsibility impact store profits and the more you know the better you become at multiple areas of the store.
  • Hiring and Supervision – You may only be starting as a Loss Prevention Associate but if you are smart you will partner with the hiring manager. Ask to be part of the store application review process. Learn to look for the red flags on a candidate’s application or resume that could spell trouble if that person is hired. You can be a valuable partner in helping in the hiring process. As a Loss Prevention Manager you will review applications, resumes and conduct the interviews. You will need to know your company’s hiring process and whether it includes a drug test or background check. While we are discussing it lets also talk about who you decide to hire. Hire people with skill sets that are different from yours. While I would not discourage you from hiring someone with Loss Prevention experience be mindful that that candidate may be more difficult to train. They will bring along training from other retailers that may not be in keeping with your store best practices.
  • Trainer and Leader – Get ready to train others and not just Loss Prevention personnel. You will be training store associates on electronic article surveillance alarm response. You will train cashiers on till tap and short change artist prevention. You will train employees on robbery procedures. You may work with the stock team on how to identify mis-shipped merchandise. Show them how improper stocking affects shortage and inaccurate merchandise reordering. You could be required to conduct new hire orientations. You will also instill in the whole team the importance of customer service as a means of reducing theft but also how it drives sales. As a leader you will request appointments to meet with other managers and discuss operational matters. The more informed you are in how things work the better prepared you can be to help improve operational procedures.

Clearly there is much more that a Loss Prevention professional can add to the store than just being a person who catches shoplifters.

     The core roles and responsibilities of the Loss Prevention team entail the reduction of retail shrinkage and even maintaining a safe shopping environment. You may not be a first responder but you could be the first person called to an accident inside or outside the store. Frequently it is the Loss Prevention personnel who are first called to find a lost car, lost child or stolen purse. You will be the one who has to calm an irate customer. Learn from these tips I am sharing. You aren’t going to be a police officer, you are going to be a Retail Loss Prevention Professional and that is a quite a job! 


Hiring Well For The Holiday Season

For the retail industry and small businesses in general, the holiday season has started, and for them, this season can be a financial boost for their business.

The significant change in sales, profits, and employment take a front seat during the holiday season, and it can be a breaking or making point for many businesses across many industries.

By November, the retail industry has hired many part-time sales personnel to help with the holiday season, expecting those employees will be ready when black Friday sales start.   Many of those businesses will let go many of those employees, but some of them will stay with the business well after the season is over. 

The benefits associated with keeping those employees on payroll are many, but most importantly, it is the expense associated with hiring new employees every few months that make sense. Many businesses strive to hire quality employees and can see the benefit in training them and keeping them well after the holiday season is over.  The expense of hiring new employees regularly makes no financial sense for them considering the rise in costs associated with it.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the cost of hiring a new employee is $4,129.  Not only that,  but it also takes weeks for those employees to be ready to perform their job well, and if not trained properly, the cost of retraining puts a financial strain in the business and their profits.

When paying for a background check before hiring a new employee, or for proper training the first time around, the costs associated with acquiring quality employees can become minimal if done properly the first time around. 

Many businesses now a day hire new employees constantly, never training them well and getting rid of them before their first paycheck arrives.  That’s a very costly way of acquiring employees or retaining the ones they have, and acquiring good employees using this method is riddled with problems from the beginning.

A business needs to invest in properly hiring and training their new hires.  The financial benefits will follow for the business.


Employees are harder to find should this impact the way you conduct seasonal hiring?

As of September 2018, the national unemployment rate is down to 3.7% according to ncls.org. As a retail store owner thinks about what this means for you in terms of trying to hire to fill job openings including seasonal hiring for the holidays. With an employment rate of 96.3% that leaves a sparse workforce as a hiring pool. I have read articles by those who think that with a dwindling number of people seeking work employers are going to have to forego pre-employment background checks. They seem to believe that the need to hire outweighs any baggage the job candidates bring with them.

     Not only are employment background checks being called into question for the reasons stated above there is also a school of thought that pre-employment drug screening may be a bad idea. This line of reasoning includes the limited availability of candidates in the workforce but also suggests that the increased legalization of marijuana use in some states is negating the reasons for having applicants take the tests.

     When taken together think about what it means to the retail employer. Store owners are required to rely on the information supplied by a candidate to make hiring decisions. Screening consists of the responses of the candidate to your questions during an interview and perhaps a couple of recommendations from their list of references. How confident are you in the references provided? Do you know if they are going to be honest about the character of the person you are considering for the job? How many of us really put down a reference who we think will not speak well of us? You also bet on the roll the dice whether your new hire is a drug user. Fail to a drug screen and the chances increase for accidents and even theft. Both theft and accidents can be costly in the long term, whether the employee is a seasonal worker or regular hire. Employee accidents can result in workers compensation claims. Accidents involving a customer as a result of an employee’s negligence can result in a lawsuit against your business.

     The question you need to answer is whether it is worth changing your hiring practices to ramp up your seasonal staffing needs? The short answer is no, you should not modify or change tried and true methods of hiring. Those methods help you bring in new help and reduce your exposure to safety and shortage risks. Pre-employment background screenings can be tailored to meet the criteria you want them to assess so you may review what you are screening for and eliminate some of the categories that may not be as important for a part-time worker. For instance, if a driving record check is part of your normal pre-employment screening is that necessary for someone who will work in your stockroom for a few months? You might not really need to validate someone’s education level if you are only hiring them for the season and they do not intend to apply to stay after that.

      Likewise, a credit history, criminal background check, and review of the sex offender registry are the minimum three searches I recommend every store owner require of applicants regardless of the amount of time they will work for you. The credit history should be checked in case your prospective employee is in dire financial trouble. He/she may see this job as a means of extricating themselves from their problem. The criminal history should be checked because it could include everything from assaults to theft. You don’t want someone prone to violence working around other employees or customers and have them lose control. Nor would you want a convicted thief working around merchandise and/or cash. The sex offender registry check speaks for itself. You are responsible for the safety of all of your employees and your customers and the risk of hiring a person on the sex offender registry is too great to consider.

     Seasonal hiring may be a bit more of a challenge when the economy is strong but it is no reason to discard proven methods of shortage reduction. Holidays also tend to be times of increased safety issues. Drug testing and pre-employment screenings are an effective means of maintaining a safe work environment. Don’t lose sight of the fact that there are a lot of people who are looking for a seasonal job simply for a little extra spending cash. There are also young people looking for that first job experience and a paycheck. You may have to find new ways to get the word out about your positions but don’t fret, there is always an honest person looking for a job (or a second one).


     

Thanksgiving – Pros and Cons of the shift of Thanksgiving sales from Friday to Thursday

Traditionally Black Friday has been the kick-off of the holiday shopping season. Families spent Thanksgiving together dining, celebrating, catching up with each other and maybe even watching a football game on television. Early Friday following Thanksgiving store employees would start reporting to work preparing for early openings which often took place at 6:00 am. Retailers had advertised their Black Friday specials (Door Busters) and customers would start queuing up at the doors ready to find bargains. The shopping would then continue into Saturday and even Sunday patrons continued to look for bargains to stretch their dollars further. Then something began to happen, stores started competing for those dollars by opening their doors earlier and earlier. We ( I did this for quite a few years) would report to work and 3:00 am for a 5:00 am store opening. The next year we moved to 2:00 am arrival for a 4:00 am opening. Today stores are opening their doors on Thanksgiving Day. There are Pros and Cons to this shift that I think is worth exploring in a bit more depth.

Pros to an opening on Thanksgiving Day:

  • Shoppers are going to stores on Thanksgiving, according to the balance.com in a story, “What Is Black Friday? Sales and Trends” by Kimberly Amadeo, updated June 20, 2018, 29 million people went shopping on Thanksgiving Day, 2016. That is a significant number of shoppers to just ignore.
  • According to bestblackfriday.com, 16.22% of Americans said they are in favor of stores opening on Thanksgiving and 5.60% were strongly in favor of it. “Thanksgiving Day 2017 Shopping Survey and Analysis”, Nov 4, 2017, by Phil Dengler. Americans may say they are against it but go out shopping anyways.
  • Bestblackfriday.com also reported that “younger Americans favor stores being open on Thanksgiving more than older Americans do.” Appealing to younger shoppers could be a way to increase their patronage on Thanksgiving Day.

Con’s to an opening on Thanksgiving Day:

  • Being open on Thanksgiving can create problems for retailers trying to generate sales on Black Friday as well as Thanksgiving. According to a New York Times article, “More Retailers Are Choosing to Close on Thanksgiving”, by Rachel Abrams, Nov 15, 2016, there are problems in keeping store shelves full for Black Friday and Thanksgiving Day.
  • The same article points out that stores can give a bad impression to customers if they come in on Black Friday and shelves are empty and employees seem to be exhausted. Joel Alden a partner in a retail consulting firm is quoted as saying, “If you do a lousy job over the Thanksgiving period, it may be a while before those customers come back and visit you again.” 
  • “…retailers that open Thanksgiving risk backlash from consumers who would rather the day be preserved for family get-togethers” according to a story in Richmond.com, written by Tammie-Smith, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Nov 23, 2016, “Retail employees working Thanksgiving as stores offer customers some of the biggest sales of the year”

There is finally a mix of feelings about working on Thanksgiving from the employees who have to work when their company chooses to be open on this day. Some are unhappy that they are expected to work when they would prefer to be enjoying the time with their families. There are those employees who prefer to work the holiday for the extra pay they receive. An article from floridatoday.com “Working retail on Thanksgiving: Here’s the scoop”, by Ilana Kowarski, Nov. 26, 2014, provides a glimpse at this split between retail worker opinions. One employee was quoted as saying she wanted “…to make more money for my family, and that’s on me.” A bit further in the article though another employee said, “Corporate greed drives the business to stay open and, therefore, forces us to work on holidays.”

     So what’s the answer? It would seem there is no right or wrong answer, only pros, and cons for the retail owner to consider. Balance the benefits of opening on Thanksgiving with the potential problems that may arise from doing so. Perhaps the best answer you can get is to talk with your employees and find out what their thoughts are on the subject. If enough workers are on board to open the store and run it each day of the holiday weekend and do so with a great attitude you may have the winning solution to the problem!