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What percentage of people shoplift?

The Five-Finger Discount: 35 Facts About Shoplifting in America.

The Five-Finger Discount: 35 Facts About Shoplifting in America.

Shoplifting by the numbers:

1. It’s estimated that there are currently 27 million shoplifters in the U.S. today, which means 1 in 11 of us steal from stores and retailers.

2. Those 27 million criminals must be busy because it’s estimated there are between 330-440 million individual cases of shoplifting every year, which comes to 1 – 1.2 million shoplifting incidents daily, or 50,000 every hour.

3. Approximately 10 million people have been caught shoplifting over the last 5 years, at an average of 2 million nabbed ‘lifters every year!

4. In the time it takes you to read this blog, about 1,500 items with a total price tag of about $200,000 will be shoplifted from U.S. stores!

The Price Tag on Shoplifting:

5. The damage done by shoplifting is not only to the retailer or store, but impacts all of us. The extra burden on security, police, courts, and store losses are all passed down to taxpaying consumers.

6. The National Association for Shoplifting Prevention (NASP) found that shoplifting costs retailers about $13 every year, and the American taxpaying public a total of about $33.21 billion yearly, or about $75,000 every minute!

7. For the average retailer, losses due to shoplifting average 1.7% of all gross sales. Shoplifting accounts for about 33% of all total inventory shrinkage (damage, loss, employee theft, expiration, etc. are all other reasons for inventory shrinkage.) Interestingly, 33.1% of total inventory shrinkage is employee theft, which is not classified as shoplifting.

8. The average store theft is between $2 and $200.

A Profile of the Typical Shoplifter:

9. Can you picture the typical shoplifter? If you can’t, it’s for good reason, because experts cite that there is no average shoplifter profile. Consider that:

10. Men and women shoplift about equally.

11. You might think that shoplifting is an indiscretion of youth, but only 25% of shoplifters are kids. That means that 75% are fully grown adults!

12. A 2004 study by the University of Florida concluded that middle-aged adults age 35-54 shoplift more than children!

13. Shoplifters are usually poor and/or uneducated? Not so fast. A 2008 study by Columbia University concluded that shoplifting was actually more prevalent among people with higher education and income, which made them conclude there were more psychological factors and less financial motivation that made people steal.

14. One crazy fact is that many consumers buy something at a store AND steal merchandise during the same visit!

15. Interestingly enough, sneaking shoplifting is usually a crime that the perpetrator plans in advance. In fact, only 73% of adult and 72% of juvenile shoplifters don’t plan to steal anything in advance, it just happens once they get in the store.

The most commonly stolen items:

16. According to the National Retail Federation, the items that are most targeted by shoplifters include (in no particular order):

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Chewing gum,
The weight-loss drug Alli,
Red Bull energy drinks,
Dyson vacuums,
Bumble and Bumble hair products,
Cover Girl cosmetics,
Crest Whitestrips,

17. Shoplifting is mostly an amateurish act, not a professional vocation. In fact, only about 3% of shoplifters are considered professional thieves who steal things with the intent to resell them for a profit. However, those 3% of professionals account for 10% of all dollar losses from store thefts.

18. Among those who shoplift regularly, they steal something from a store an average of 1.6 times per week.

The history of shoplifting:

19. There have been theories that the rise of the modern shopping mall first brought on the shoplifting phenomenon in society but in fact, it’s been around about as long as we’ve had stores and merchants

20. Written accounts of shoplifting go back at least as far as Shakespearean times. In 1591, a playwright for the Bard’s Company named Robert Greene wrote a pamphlet that gave counsel to potential shoplifters, advising that they should be “attired in the form of a civil country gentleman.”

21. Due to a huge rise in shoplifting in the second half of the 17th century, the Shoplifting Act in 1699 made shoplifting more than five shillings worth of goods punishable by death by hanging.

22. They enforced the act, hanging numerous shoplifters in the 18th century in Europe, even for small thefts. One woman, Mary Jones, was hanged in 1771 for stealing a piece of linen to make clothes for her baby.

23. Despite the Draconian punishment, shoplifters weren’t deterred. According to historian J.M. Beattie, stealing clothes accounted for 27% of all theft in 18th-century London.

Retailers fight back:

24. It seems that the great recession only increased the number of people shoplifting. In fact, before the recession there were about 600,000 people caught shoplifting each year, but that number rose to over a million last year.

25. Retailers commonly use different security features and methods to dissuade shoplifters, include cables and hanger locks that require the assistance of a salesperson, plain-clothes detectives to observe customers as they shop on the floor, video surveillance cameras, and electronic article surveillance (EAS) devices attached to their products that cause alarms to go off if a thief walks out of the store before they are deactivated.

26. Over the last 5 years, apprehension of individuals caught shoplifting has risen by about 90 percent%! Shoplifting cases a significant strain on the economy and small businesses and if the person is caught, it will go into their credit record and will not be possible to remove this negative item from their credit report.

27. Police and merchant data shows that shoplifters are caught an average of only once every 48 times they commit an act of thievery.

28. When they are caught, stores and retailers contact the police and have shoplifters arrested approximately 50% of the time.

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29. Retailers and businesses around the world spend about $26.8 billion a year to stop shoplifters and thieves, a dollar amount that has grown at a rate of almost 10% per year in the last 5 years.

30. Shoplifting trivia:

31. Meat was the most shoplifted item in the United States in both 2006 and 2007, according to the Food Marketing Institute.

32. In 1971, counter culture icon Abbie Hoffman published a book called “Steal This Book” which was basically a manual on how to shoplift. No newspapers would review it and many states banned it but the book did set off a nationwide shoplifting spree.

33. The Centre for Retail Research in the UK states that men most commonly shoplift electronics, televisions, and power tools, while women steal cosmetics, clothes, jewelry and perfume the most.

34. The affliction of shoplifting books because of a compulsive desire to own as many as possible has it’s own name – bibliomania. In fact, one notable bibliomaniac stole 23,000 books from archives and libraries across the country before getting caught!

35. According to the American Psychiatric Association, kleptomania, the term for the disease that irrationally compels people to steal, afflicts about six in 1,000 people in the population, and less than 5 percent of shoplifters.

The Shoplifters’ Hit Parade

Thieves will steal almost anything. If it is worth holding in stock, it is probably worth someone’s time to steal it. The only limitation on what people might steal occurs when the resale value of an item is so low that the risk of being apprehended is much higher than the potential gain from theft.

People may steal items for their own use or, more often, to sell on to other people, including market traders and other businesses. For more information see Bamfield, J A N (2015) Shopping and Crime, London: Palgrave Macmillan.

The Shoplifters’ Hit Parade 2019

  • Packed meat, such as steak, lamb and bacon from supermarkets and convenience stores. These are expensive items in high demand and can readily be sold door-to-door or in pubs and clubs.
  • Razor blades: these are small expensive items in regular demand with a ready market.
  • Whisky, champagne, gin and other alcoholic products like prosecco are expensive items with a ready illegal market. The new popularity of artisan gin makes it a frequent target.
  • Cosmetics, makeup and lipsticks are regularly stolen for personal use, as gifts or for sale to others. The containers are often small and goods can be secreted in pockets, bags or knapsacks. Other products in this often-stolen category are sun-cream, skin-cream, hair treatment and shampoo.
  • Cheese. Ten years ago, based on our research cheese was the most-stolen product in the UK and Europe. It may be stolen for commercial purposes along with expensive specialist products like parmesan. ‘Most stolen product from shops? Answer: cheese’ was one of the questions in pub quizzes for a couple of years. The quiz setter rang us up at the time to check whether this was true.
  • Branded under-arm deodorants. These are popular items to steal and can be shoplifted in bulk by quickly ‘sweeping’ a fixture with one’s forearm.
  • Batteries. These are small, expensive items in regular demand.
  • Clothing accessories: these include scarves, handbags, purses, gloves and other small and expensive things.
  • Coffee: coffee is an expensive item in regular demand and may be stolen for person use or re-sale. Ordinary packet tea in the UK is now so cheap that there is usually no real gain from stealing it.
  • Baby clothes: growing babies regularly need larger outfits and the potential market for selling on is easy to spot.
  • Jeans: the switch to more casual forms of dress, even amongst office workers, made jeans ever more popular in all age groups from ageing baby-boomers to millennials. Often stolen in batches they are easy to sell on.
  • Perfume and fragrance: costly products that are relatively easy to steal.
  • Small electrical goods and accessories: electric toothbrushes, smart speakers, iPads, headphones, shavers, data sticks. Smartphones are slightly less likely to be stolen because of robust security devices.
  • Sport fashion: athleisurewear — in line with rising consumer demand, thieves steal branded items, sports shirts, football strips and trainers.
  • Boxed sets DVD and games.
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Shoplifters: a note. The term, shoplifter, has been used in English to mean ‘customer thief’ for at least three centuries. Retailers in the UK feel that the use of this term implicitly suggests that customer theft is a minor, low-impact offence. ‘Shoplifter’is still conventionally used in the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. In terms of the total value stolen, shoplifting is one of the major crimes committed in the UK.

A Voice From The Past — 1817

The Proceedings at The Old Bailey, London 15th January 1817

WILLIAM POWERS was indicted for stealing, on the 11th of December 1816, two shoes, value 8 shillings [equivalent to £0.40 then or £34 at current prices], the property of Charles Bamfield.

CHARLES BAMFIELD. I am a shoemaker, and live at No. 74, Newgate-street, London. On the 11th of December, about five o’clock in the afternoon, the prisoner came into my shop, and asked for a pair of shoes and a pair of boots. I showed him the shoes, they fitted him, and I put them aside for him, and fitted him a pair of boots; I had my back towards him. He was to pay me 2l. 6s. [£2.30, or £198.51 at current prices] for both pair. I was taking some boots from the pegs, and saw him doing something to his pocket. He pulled out four or five shillings [£20 at current prices], and wanted my boy to fetch some gin; I would not let him; he proposed my going out with him to have some — I refused; he then said, you will not hinder me from going out. I told him I must first know what he had in his pocket; he stepped back, and pulled two shoes out of his pocket — They were mine. I sent for a constable, when he shoved me, broke my window, and run out of the shop. I gave an alarm, and he was brought back. I am sure he is the man.

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HENRY HARRIS. I am the officer; I took charge of the prisoner; the next day he told me he was sorry for it, and was afraid he should be transported.

(Property produced and sworn to.)

GUILTY. Aged 22.

Confined One Year, and publicly Whipped.

[Charles Bamfield does not only share a surname with me, but is my great-grandfather’s grandfather. He was born in Grantham, Lincs, where he was served his apprenticeship, before moving to London, where he eventually set up business as a saddler as well as running a shoe shop. Although the punishment may seem onerous compared to what goes on in the 2020s, where it might even be treated as a civil matter, William Powers under English law applied twenty years before would have been hung. Compared to this, prison and a whipping may have seemed quite lenient. However this was not the only case of theft and robbery that affected Charles Bamfield in his commercial life.]

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Tips for Identifying a Shoplifter

Shoplifting is much more common than you would think. Check out our video on The Science of Shoplifting to learn the warning signs for this rising crime.

Shoplifting is much more common than you would think.

You may believe few people are bold enough to walk into a well-lit, employee-monitored store, but that is not the case.

In fact, shoplifting has become more common than ever.

Check out our video on The Science of Shoplifting to learn the warning signs for this rising crime:

Tips on Identifying a Shoplifter

How much do you think the retail industry loses every year due to shoplifting?

Shoplifting costs the retail industry $30 billion every year and that number is growing. Eighty-three percent of merchants reported an increase in shoplifting in 2016.

How many people admit to shoplifting at least once in their lifetime?

Thirty-three percent of people surveyed admit to having shoplifted at least once.

That is a lot of people. So, this is a serious issue. I want to talk with you about how you can prevent it and what to watch out for, whether you work in retail or you are simply a concerned citizen.

In my colleague Danielle’s previous life, she worked at a retail women’s clothing store in Portland. She and her team picked up on a few specific red flags. They had shoplifting occur almost every other day at their store. It was insane. So, they were trained to look out for very specific cues.

Look for atypical customers

The first red flag is someone entering the store who is not your typical customer. At Danielle’s store, the typical customer was a middle-aged, professional female looking to level-up her career wardrobe. If a group of four to five teenagers came in, this was not her typical customer and that’s a red flag.

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Look for the big bags

The next red flag is anyone carrying a big bag, whether it’s a backpack or a large purse or a reusable grocery bag. Typically, shoplifters want to shovel in as much merchandise as they can. This really surprised me, because I always thought a pick-pocket would take one small item and slip it into their bag. But in reality, there is no finesse at all. Most shoplifters literally shove in as much as they can. Often, it is a very fast process. Shoplifters rarely browse. They get in and out very quickly.

Look for groups

The next red flag is groups. Just like we noted in a previous post on pickpocketing, shoplifters will travel with a lifter and distractor, and sometimes will have multiple distractors. So, if two people come in, one person will distract the manager or associate by asking them to find specific sizes of an item, directions, or other time-consuming questions, while the lifter is in action doing the shoplifting. When the lifter is done, they both run.

Other tell-tale signs of shoplifters include:

  • Wearing large coats or baggy clothes
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Watching the staff, not the merchandise
  • Seeking shelter in dressing rooms to stash smuggled merchandise
  • Lurking in corners
  • Taking advantage of stores during peak hours
  • Walking with short or unnatural steps (a tip-off that customers may be hiding merchandise between their legs)
  • Carrying an arsenal of professional tools, bulky packages, pocket books, baby carriages, knitting bags, etc.
  • Lingering in one area, especially if it is near a store’s exit

After shoplifting, many people will return the items to the same store from which they stole them. If you work in retail, something to look out for is someone coming in to return lots of the small sizes, because clothes typically are organized with the small sizes in front/on top.

This topic is really interesting because its prevalence is a little bit surprising. This can help you be on the lookout as someone who works in retail or as a concerned citizen.

*Bonus*: Want to see shoplifting in action? Take a look at these perps
caught on tape:

Shoplifting - we are watching you (1/2) Secrets Of The Shoplifters Walgreens Shoplifters Caught in the Act Downtown San Francisco (4K UHD)

Read more research on shoplifting:

  • Psychological Studies on Shoplifting and Kleptomania
  • Shoplifting Statistics
  • Dabney, Dean A. et al. “Who Actually Steals? A Study Of Covertly Observed Shoplifters”. Justice Quarterly, vol 21, no. 4, 2004, pp. 693-728. Informa UK Limited, doi:10.1080/07418820400095961.

3 replies on “Tips for Identifying a Shoplifter”

Karen Judge

Hi there, I would love to see the erase arch you link to at the bottom of this page, but they all failed. Any advice?

Kensi Science of People

Hi Karen! Thanks for bringing this to our attention- we’re working to fix the links and will let you know when they’re ready to go! So sorry for the inconvenience. – Kensi | Science of People Team

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