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Survey of shoplifters.

THE DAYTON HUDSON CORPORAtion Department Store Division Loss Prevention Group does not have the answer to asset protection because there seldom is only one way to prevent losses, except to close a store.

Retail security is not an exact science. It is dynamic and multidimensional. When new products and techniques become available, we test them. Before full strategies are implemented, we collaborate extensively to achieve a consensus.

One group-shoplifters-has an intimate stake in the success or failure of a store's loss prevention efforts. This group has been overlooked in determining how we might be more effective in stopping theft. To tap this group as a resource, we developed a "Theft Prevention Questionnaire."

Four topics formed the basis of the questionnaire. They are as follows:

* Why do people steal? The expectation was that knowing why people acted the way they did might help us stop the inappropriate behavior. Were shoplifters motivated by greed, need, or speed? So, we asked apprehended thieves, "Why did you take these items?"

* From a thief's perspective, how might we, the stores, stop theft? Would thieves be deterred by new, more effective systems that we had not yet tried? Were we correct in propagandizing that good customer service stops theft? How many thieves were so committed to stealing that nothing could stop them? Thus we asked, "What could the store have done to stop you from taking the item(s)?" And, "If you could tell a store manager one action to take to stop theft, what would it be?"

* Do thieves believe that stealing is wrong? Were thieves insensitive to the moral or societal implications of their actions? Might some thieves be affected by subliminal behavior modification?

Some of the most direct answers came in response to the question, "If you could tell a younger person one thing about theft, what would it be?" We thought that the question was phrased in a way that would invite the responder to relay their true feelings innocuously.

* Are thieves honest? Many thieves claimed that the time we caught them was the first time. Was it? Were we that good? We asked, "How often have you stolen from the company in the past two years?" "How often have you stolen from other companies in the past two years?" and "How much per week do you steal?"

THE SURVEY BEGAN ON JANUARY 30, 1991, and ended on March 30, 1991. Of the 1,935 shoplifters apprehended during this time, a total of 740 shoplifters were each asked nine questions by investigators in 50 different stores.

The average respondent was an 18-year-old white female, observed by an investigator concealing $86 worth of clothes, taking merchandise from the cash register area past salespeople and point-of-sale terminals.

Each shoplifter was apprehended by a loss prevention investigator. In the office, the shoplifter was relieved of the merchandise and asked for identity. The police were then notified. While awaiting the police, the individual was asked a series of questions relating to the shoplifting.

The first question, "Why did you take these items?" set the stage in a less-threatening way for a response. Only one third (34 percent) of the respondents chose not to answer.

Almost one half (48 percent) of those who expressed any motivation for stealing (72 percent of those who offered any reason for their actions) indicated they stole the merchandise because they liked it. Many of these people indicated they did not have the money to pay for the merchandise. In fact, 4 percent were so bold as to suggest that to stop them we should lower prices.

Fifty percent more men than women did not answer this question, suggesting perhaps a more fundamental, economic motivation for their theft. Supporting this hypothesis is the fact that only 2 percent of the men and 7 percent of the women stole "for kicks." Twenty-five percent more men than women stole for money, not for the merchandise itself.

It is disconcerting to find that more than one fourth (28 percent) of those offering an explanation for their theft indicated an economic need. They were on a mission to steal and apparently not deterred by our preventive strategies.

According to 35 percent of the respondents, there were no stores from which they would not steal. This is absolutely consistent with the finding in the previous section that 28 percent were stealing out of economic need. They would steal from any place and every place. Reassuringly, one third said there are stores from which they would not steal.

Unfortunately, the respondents were less willing to identify specifically which store they would not steal from, although 21 percent did answer. Nine percent indicated that they were not thieves, and 3 percent that they did not steal from our stores after having been caught.

Another question sought to find out why thieves were deterred from those stores from which they would not steal. Nine percent noted that EAS tag systems deterred them. Only 1 percent noted that the number of sales personnel on duty deterred them.

When asked what could have been done to stop them, 40 percent of the respondents were totally uncooperative; 19 percent were hard-core shoplifters, noting that nothing could stop them or that they had to be caught to stop; 19 percent were somewhat deterable; and 22 percent had the possibility to be impacted upon.

More than one third (37 percent) of the shoplifters had helpful suggestions and comments regarding systems and procedures. These suggestions included more sales personnel on the sales floor, fitting room service or controls, lower prices on the merchandise, and having sales personnel approach them on the sales floor to name a few.

Increased use of EAS systems, mirrors, cameras, security personnel, warning signs, return controls, and surveillance were also mentioned.

Women were more deterred by fitting room checkers (10 percent women versus 5 percent men) and EAS (11 percent women versus 7 percent men). Men were less likely to steal when more salespeople (mentioned by 10 percent of the men and 6 percent of the women) and more security (10 percent of men versus 7 percent of women) were around. This suggests again that more male thieves were economically motivated than females.

We concluded from the questionnaires that perhaps one half of the shoplifters surveyed can be deterred from stealing because they offered suggestions in answer to that question.

If thieves did not know that stealing was wrong, then subliminal behavior modification strategies would not be effective. If there was no subconscious standard to awaken, then the subliminal trigger would be for naught. Potential thieves would either have to be prevented from having the opportunity to steal, which is not likely in an open selling, touch, feel, wear, and smell environment, or they would have to be caught every time.

Three fourths of the women and two thirds of the men believed stealing is wrong-on the basis of what they would tell a young person.

We expected that many thieves would advise a young person to "be a good thief," "be careful," "do not get caught," or "stay out of Hudson's or Field's" if they did not perceive the act of theft to be intrinsically contrary to their character. Only 3 percent of the thieves apprehended offered this type of answer. It is revealing and reassuring to learn that thieves do not encourage others to steal.

When asked if they had stolen from this company in the past two years, 39 percent of the thieves responded no, and 10 percent yes. When asked if they had stolen from other companies in the past two years, 62 percent responded no, and 12 percent yes.

A slight overlap exists between those who indicated that they stole from us and from others. However, the total of those admitting theft from us or others was only 13 percent.

When asked, "Are there stores from which you would not steal?" 23 percent responded no, indicating they would steal from any store. Yet, only 12 percent admitted to stealing from other stores.

In answer to the question, "How often do you steal from us?" 17 percent admitted they did it at least once, yet only 10 percent specifically acknowledged stealing from us.

There is no confusion or inconsistency in these results. They prove absolutely that thieves are also not honest.

The conclusions we drew from this survey include:

* Most thieves stole for themselves because they liked our merchandise and not for economic gain.

* Many casually tempted thieves can be deterred by security or selling measures. Not all, of course, but about one half of the thieves indicated that they were influenced by theft prevention actions and strategies.

* Most shoplifters knew that what they were doing was wrong.

For a copy of Survey of Thieves, write to P. James Carolin, Jr., Dayton Hudson Corporation, 700 On The Mall, Minneapolis, MN 55402.

This information was taken from Survey of Thieves, conducted by and for the Dayton Hudson Corporation Department Store Division.
COPYRIGHT 1992 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Special Supplement: A Consumer's Guide to Retail Security
Author:Carolin, P. James, Jr.
Publication:Security Management
Date:Mar 1, 1992
Previous Article:What image should we project.
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