Small Business
October 3, 2023
Crime Prevention
How to prevent retail theft and what to do if you witness it

How to prevent retail theft and what to do if you witness it

Shoplifting is a major problem for many retail stores. Whether you’re the owner or an employee, always be alert for suspicious customers, keep an eye on your stock and work together to create a safe retail experience for everyone.

Retail theft – or shoplifting - is a major problem for many stores. It can be frustrating and costly. 

Don’t worry though. Here are some simple and straightforward tips to help keep staff and customers safe, theft to a minimum and shoplifters at bay. 

1. Provide great customer service

Always greet customers when they enter. A friendly hello or a simple “Can I help you?” or “Are you looking for something in particular?” not only makes a customer's day but can also deter a shoplifter as they’ll know they’ve been noticed. 

2. Know the signs

Keep an eye out for customers behaving suspiciously – from customers lurking nervously before entering, to those carrying backpacks or large bags, or even those wearing bulky coats in summer. Especially watch out for:

  • Hands (yep, they’re the culprits)
  • People who loiter in spaces just out of sight
  • Nervous customers who won’t make eye contact
  • Customers who stay in the store a time, seemingly without a purpose.

3. Make it visible

Install cameras in your store. Just the sight of one can make a potential thief think twice. Show customers they are on camera by having the feed visible. If your store has blind spots, use mirrors and display signage clearly stating that shoplifters will be prosecuted. Place an employee near the exit so it’s harder for a thief to just dash out unnoticed.

4. Keep a check on stock

Regularly pop into the fitting rooms and keep tabs on incoming and outgoing items. Some folks might try to hide tags, packaging or empty hangers in there. Regular check inventory to identify any missing items and keep shelves and racks neat so it’s easier to spot if something has disappeared.

5. Have a bright, open layout

A bright, open, airy store doesn’t just appeal to genuine customers, it also makes theft a lot trickier. Ensure your store is well-lit, shelves and racks are within view of staff, and the counter and cash register is strategically located.  

6. Lock up high-ticket items

If you have expensive items, consider locking them up or placing them in a secure case or cabinet or behind security gates. Make customers ask for help if they want to see them. And while we’re on barriers, limit store entries and exits, and access to staff areas, and ensure they're locked properly.

7. Invest in security tags

Install security tags or labels (also known as Electronic Article Surveillance) on your stock. These tags and labels will sound an alarm if not property removed or deactivated. Trust us, they can be a lifesaver.

8. Bond with police and security

It’s handy to build a rapport with local police and shopping centre security. They can provide valuable advice and conduct regular patrols. It also helps if they’re familiar with your store's layout. Always report any thefts or suspicious activity. 

What to do if you witness a theft?

Your safety is paramount. Never confront a shoplifter directly. It’s not worth the risk. If you're sure of the theft:

  • Inform your supervisor or manager.
  • Identify exactly what was taken and where it was hidden.
  • Maintain a line of sight but at a safe distance.
  • Take note of their appearance, clothing and any other noticeable features such as beards, tattoos or scars.
  • Refrain from touching the suspect.
  • Politely inform them police or store security have been notified and request they hand over the item.

However, if there's any uncertainty, it's better to hold back. A wrongful accusation could land you and your store in hot water.

Other handy tips

  • Never leave the cash register unattended.
  • Limit the amount of cash kept in the till and on site.
  • Make sure customers can’t access behind the counter.
  • Install sensors to alert staff when customers enter the store.
  • Keep staff and stock rooms locked and check them throughout the day.
  • Regularly chat with staff about preventing theft and what to do if theft occurs. Provide on-the-job training. The more they know, the better.

Get Police Assistance

For all emergencies and immediate Police assistance
Call: 000
To report non-urgent crimes or events 24 hours a day
Call: 131 444
To report information about a crime contact Crime Stoppers on
1800 333 000

Suggested reading just for you

Discover more Small Business articles.

How to protect your small business from crime

There are simple practical things you can do prevent crime in your small business – train staff in security procedures, keep things locked up, install cameras, alarms and signs and get to know your business neighbours.
Read More

How to prevent an armed robbery and what to do if one happens

As a retail worker or business owner, it’s important to be informed and prepared when it comes to armed robbery. Your overall aim should be to ensure the offender leaves as soon as possible without harming anyone.
Read More

How to protect tradie tools from theft

Whether on the road, at home or work, always keep your tools locked up securely in a heavy-duty toolbox that has quality keyed locks and is fixed to your vehicle.
Read More

Keep up to date with our tips, news and events

Subscribe to our newsletter
Connect With Us

Neighbourhood Watch Victoria acknowledges the 38 mobs, the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we operate, live, and gather as employees and volunteers. We recognise their continuing connection to land, water and community and pay respect to Elders past, present and emerging.

At Neighbourhood Watch, we believe everyone has the right to feel safe and welcome. We are committed to ensuring diversity, inclusion and equity are embedded throughout our organisation – in the work we do, the services we deliver and among our staff, volunteers, and the communities we work with.