Things to Consider When You’re Fighting Petty Theft in Your Convenience Store

by John Burke

3 min read

Of all the hurdles you face in running a successful convenience store, petty theft might be the most annoying. While individual acts of petty crime may be minor, together these thefts have the potential to eat away at your bottom line until your store is in trouble. Managing this attrition, whether through constant vigilance or by adopting a new inventory management system, can be the difference between owning a small grocery store that’s barely getting by and running a thriving business you can pass down to your kids someday.

Losses Due to Shoplifting

Shoplifting is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of petty theft. Customers taking goods off the shelf without paying for them is one of the biggest factors in retailers’ estimated $34 billion in annual shrinkage. The key to stopping, or at least limiting, losses due to shoplifting is to be alert and watch for the signs of a customer who’s thinking about taking a chance and stealing from you. Specifically, you want to watch for people in your store who:

  • Linger unusually long in one part of the store, especially in a place with high-value merchandise or poor visibility
  • Seem to be monitoring the movements of store employees, as if they are trying to avoid confrontation
  • Repeatedly leave the store and then come back, as if they are nerving themselves to try something
  • Park a car near the door and leave the motor running; this can be a sign the person is planning a smash-and-grab style theft
  • Wear unseasonably bulky or large clothes, which make concealing large and irregular-shaped items relatively easy

Employee Theft

Employee theft is the other major part of retail shrinkage. Unlike shoplifting, which typically sees a few relatively low-valued items taken in a single event, employee theft often involves a trusted worker taking cash directly out of the till. Clearly, a dishonest employee can do quite a lot more harm over the years than a one-off shoplifter can with a single visit. While you can’t be expected to screen out every potential thief in the hiring process, you can prevent this from becoming a problem by making it known you’re watching the store. Particularly effective measures include:

  • Frequent, but unpredictable, visits to check on the store
  • Register reconciliation, done often and in front of employees, to send a signal you track every dollar
  • Adopting a computerized, or at least a paper, POS inventory-tracking system to discourage item theft
  • Cameras permanently positioned near the register to discourage checkers from pocketing cash

Managing Losses: A Cost-Benefit Issue

As with any problem, the measures you take to prevent petty theft have to be balanced against the cost of just letting a certain amount of inventory disappear. A large retailer, for instance, may find it worthwhile to hire full-time security workers to guard its multimillion-dollar inventory at each location, but your convenience store probably isn’t losing enough each year to justify even a part-time investment in security. Fortunately, there are several low-cost measures you can take to minimize both the losses from theft and the cost of fighting it:

  • Train employees to be alert to suspicious-looking customers. Sometimes, just asking if they need help may prevent a theft.
  • Invest in some low-cost camera systems to monitor as much of the store as you can.
  • Adopt a comprehensive risk-mitigation strategy that includes limiting individual employees’ access to money and inventory, if only to stop a single bad apple from causing irreparable harm.

You want to maintain a physical presence in your convenience store to send the signal to both customers and employees that you care, you’re watching everything, and you intend your store to grow and thrive rather than be the passive victim of petty theft.

References & Resources

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