Shoplifting is the theft of goods from an open retail establishment, typically by concealing a store item on one's person, in pockets, under clothes, or in a bag, and leaving the store without paying. With clothing, shoplifters may put on items from the store and leave the store wearing the clothes. The terms "shoplifting" and "shoplifter" are not usually defined in law. The crime of shoplifting generally falls under the legal classification of larceny. Shoplifting is distinct from burglary (theft by breaking into a closed store), robbery (stealing by threatening or engaging in violent behavior), or armed robbery (stealing by using a weapon). In the retail industry, the word "shrinkage" (or "shrink") can be used to refer to merchandise lost by shoplifting, but the word also includes loss by other means, such as waste, uninsured damage to products, and theft by store employees.
Shoplifters range from amateurs acting on impulse, to who habitually engage in shoplifting as a form of income. Career criminals may use several individuals to shoplift, with some participants distracting store employees while another participant steals items. Amateurs typically steal products for personal use, while career criminals generally steal items to resell them in the underground economy. Other forms of shoplifting include swapping price labels of different items, return fraud, or eating a grocery store's food without paying for it. Commonly shoplifted items are those with a high price in proportion to their size, such as disposable razor blades, vitamins, alcoholic beverages, and cigarettes.
Stores use a number of strategies to reduce shoplifting, including storing small, expensive items in locked glass cases; chaining or otherwise attaching items to shelves or clothes racks (particularly expensive items); attaching magnetic or radio sensors or dyepacks to items; installing curved mirrors mounted above shelves or CCTV, hiring plainclothes "" and , and banning the bringing in of backpacks or other bags. Some stores have security guards at the exit, who search backpacks and bags and check receipts. Stores also combat shoplifting by training employees how to detect potential shoplifters.
The first documented shoplifting started to take place in 16th century London. By the early 19th century, shoplifting was believed to be primarily a female activity. In the 1960s, shoplifting began to be redefined again, this time as a political act. Researchers divide shoplifters into two categories: "boosters" (professionals who resell what they steal), and "snitches" (amateurs who steal for their personal use).
Generally, criminal theft involves taking possession of property illegally. In self-service shops, customers are allowed by the property owner to take physical possession of the property by holding or moving it. This leaves areas of ambiguity that could criminalize some people for simple mistakes, such as accidental putting of a small item in a pocket or forgetting to pay. For this reason penalties for shoplifting are often lower than those for general theft. Few jurisdictions have specific shoplifting legislation with which to differentiate it from other forms of theft, so reduced penalties are usually at a judge's discretion. Most retailers are aware of the serious consequences of making a false arrest, and will only attempt to apprehend a person if their guilt is beyond a reasonable doubt. Depending on local laws, arrests made by anyone other than law enforcement officers may also be illegal.
In the United States, frequently shoplifted books include ones by authors Charles Bukowski, Jim Thompson, Philip K. Dick, Martin Amis, Paul Auster, Georges Bataille, William S. Burroughs, Hunter S. Thompson, Italo Calvino, Don DeLillo, Raymond Chandler, Michel Foucault, Dashiell Hammett, Jack Kerouac and other Beat generation writers, Jeanette Winterson, Chuck Palahniuk, Haruki Murakami, Jeffrey Eugenides, and Mark Z. Danielewski.Rosenbaum, Ron, "Shoplift Lit: You Are What You Steal", column, The New York Observer, September 26, 1999, retrieved December 20, 2009 "Book Stealing" , segment transcript, On the Media, December 23, 2005, retrieved December 20, 2009Brown, Mick, "Jeffrey Eugenides: Enduring love", The Telegraph, January 5, 2008, retrieved December 20, 2009Rabb, Margo, "Steal These Books", essay, The New York Times Book Review, December 20, 2009, retrieved same dayConstant, Paul, "Flying Off the Shelves: The Pleasures and Perils of Chasing Book Thieves", The Stranger, February 26, 2008, retrieved December 20, 2009 (See Book store shoplifting.)
Many stores instruct employees other than those directly involved in theft prevention or security to confront someone only verbally to avoid any possibility of being held liable for injury or unwarranted detention. While that may allow stolen goods to not be recovered, the loss of revenue may be judged to be acceptable in light of the cost of a potential lawsuit or an employee being injured by a fleeing shoplifter.
In the late 17th century, London shopkeepers began to display goods in ways designed to attract shoppers, such as in window displays and glass cases. This made the goods more accessible for shoppers to handle and examine, which historians say led to an acceleration of shoplifting.
The word shoplift (then, shop-lift) first appeared at the end of the 17th century in books like The Ladies Dictionary, which, as well as describing shoplifting, provided tips on losing weight and styling hair.
In 1699, the English Parliament passed The Shoplifting Act, part of the Bloody Code that punished petty crimes with death. People convicted of shoplifting items worth more than five shillings would be Hanging in London's Tyburn Tree (known as the "Tyburn jig") with crowds of thousands watching, or would be transported to the North American colonies or to Botany Bay in Australia. Some merchants found The Shoplifting Act overly severe, jurors often deliberately under-valued the cost of items stolen so convicted shoplifters would escape death, and reformist lawyers advocated for the Act's repeal, but The Shoplifting Act was supported by powerful people such as Lord Ellenborough, who characterized penal transportation as "a summer airing to a milder climate" and the archbishop of Canterbury, who believed that strong punishment was necessary to prevent a dramatic increase in crime. As England began to embrace Enlightenment ideas about crime and punishment in the 18th century, opposition to the Bloody Code began to grow. The last English execution for shoplifting was carried out in 1822, and in 1832 the House of Lords reclassified shoplifting as a non-capital crime.
By the early 19th century, shoplifting was believed to be primarily a female activity,
In the 1960s, shoplifting began to be redefined again, this time as a political act. In his 1970 book , American activist Jerry Rubin wrote "All money represents theft...shoplifting gets you high. Don't buy. Steal," and in The Anarchist Cookbook, published in 1971, American author William Powell offered tips for how to shoplift. In his 1971 book Steal This Book, American activist Abbie Hoffman offered tips on how to shoplift and argued that shoplifting is anti-corporate. In her book The Steal: A Cultural History of Shoplifting, social historian Rachel Shteir described how shoplifting from companies you dislike is considered by some activist groups, such as some Freeganism, decentralized anarchist collective CrimethInc, the Spanish anarchist collective Yomango and the Canadian magazine Adbusters, to be a morally defensible act of corporate sabotage.
Researchers have found that the decision to shoplift is associated with pro-shoplifting attitudes, social factors, opportunities for shoplifting and the perception that the shoplifter is unlikely to be caught. Researchers say that shoplifters justify their shoplifting through a variety of personal narratives, such as believing they are making up for having been victimized, that they are unfairly being denied things they deserve, or that the retailers they steal from are untrustworthy or immoral. Sociologists call these narratives neutralizations, meaning mechanisms people use to silence values within themselves that would otherwise prevent them from carrying out a particular act.
A 1984 program in West Texas designed to reduce recidivism (repeat offenses) among convicted adult shoplifters identified eight common beliefs of shoplifters:
Developmental psychologists believe that children under the age of nine shoplift to test boundaries, and that tweens and teenagers shoplift mainly for excitement or the thrill, are "acting out" (or depressed), or are being pressured by their peers.
But there are also differences in shoplifting among different countries that reflect those countries' general consumption habits and preferences. In Milan, saffron, an expensive component of risotto, is frequently shoplifted, and throughout Italy, parmigiano reggiano is often stolen from supermarkets. In Spain, jamón ibérico is a frequent target. In France, the anise-flavoured liqueur Ricard Pastis is frequently stolen, and in Japan, experts believe that manga comics, electronic games and whisky are most frequently stolen. Bookstores and magazine sellers in Japan have also complained about what they call "digital shoplifting", which refers to the photographing of material in-store for later reading. Packaged cheese has been the most frequently shoplifted item in Norway, with thieves selling it afterwards to pizza parlours and fast food restaurants.
Retailers report that shoplifting has a significant effect on their bottom line, stating that about 0.6% of all inventory disappears to shoplifters. According to the 2012 National Retail Security Survey, shoplifting costs American retailers approximately $14B annually. 2012 National Retail Security Survey In 2001, it was claimed that shoplifting cost US retailers $25 million a day. Observers believe that industry shoplifting numbers are over half employee theft or fraud and the rest by patrons. Of course, if apprehended during the shoplifting the merchandise is generally recovered by the retailers and there is often no loss to the store owner when the merchandise is surrendered to the store by the suspects. In addition, in many states retailers have the right to recover civil damages to cover the cost of providing security.
According to a December 23, 2008, article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Dimperio's Market, the only full-service grocery store in the Hazelwood neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, closed because of shoplifters. Thieves cause Hazelwood grocery to give up, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, December 23, 2008 Walgreens reported that it closed 10 stores in the San Francisco area between 2019 and 2020, primarily due to a surge in theft.
In the United States, store employees who detain suspects outside of and inside the store premises are generally granted limited powers of arrest by state law, and have the power to initiate criminal arrests or civil sanctions, or both, depending upon the policy of the retailer and the state statutes governing Civil recovery for shoplifting as reconciled with the criminal laws of the jurisdiction.See, e.g., subsection (f)(1) of the (Permitting a retail employee to detain a suspected shoplifter for a reasonable amount of time.)
The presence of uniformed officers acts as a deterrent to shoplifting activity and they are mostly used by high-end retail establishments. Shoppers in some stores are asked when leaving the premises to have their purchases checked against the receipt. Some expensive merchandise will be in a locked case requiring an employee to get items at a customer's request. The customer is required to purchase the merchandise immediately, or it is left at the checkout area for the customer to purchase when finishing shopping. Many stores also lock CDs, DVDs, and video games in locking cases, which can only be opened by the checkout operator once the item has gone through the checkout. Some stores will use dummy cases, also known as "dead boxes", in which the box or case on the shelf is entirely empty and the customer will not be given the item they have paid for until the transaction has been completed, usually by other store staff.
Many stores will put up signs warning about the consequences of shoplifting or signs warning about the use of surveillance cameras in the store. That is intended to deter people from trying to shoplift.
Many stores will use public-view monitors in the store to show people there that they are being recorded. That is intended as a deterrent to shoplifting. Some stores use inexpensive dummy cameras. Even though these fake cameras cannot record images, their presence may deter shoplifting.
Some tags are stuck onto merchandise with glue (rather than being superimposed on) the shoplifter can easily scrape off the tag in their pocket. Pedestal EAS covers, which are made of durable vinyl, offer cost-effective means of adding a marketing tool at every entrance to a store; they are also custom-manufactured to fit any pedestal and can be printed to highlight specific brands or seasonal promotions. They do not interfere with the performance of the EAS systems and are easily cleaned or changed. Some shoplifters may employ Radio jamming devices to prevent EAS tags from triggering, or magnets to remove the tags. Stores may employ technology to detect jammers and magnets.
Radio-frequency identification (RFID) is an anti-employee-theft and anti-shoplifting technology used in retailers such as Walmart, which already heavily use RFID technology for inventory purposes. If a product with an active RFID tag passes the exit scanners at a Walmart outlet, not only does it set off an alarm, but it also tells security personnel exactly what product to look for in the shopper's cart. RFID and Walmart
Add-on metal detector systems will be used in some stores with electronic article surveillance which sense metallic surfaces. They are used to deter the use of which are used to shield EAS tags.
The presence of uniformed acts as a deterrent to shoplifting activity. Guards are mostly used by high-end retail establishments such as jewellery stores and camera and electronics stores, but are also used by other retailers. Floor attendants greet customers, follow them as they walk about the store, and offer help with shopping. Shoplifters are not comfortable with this attention and may go somewhere else where they can steal unnoticed. In a 2008 global study conducted by NRMA, it found shoplifters are 68 percent less likely to commit the offense if they are greeted immediately as they walk into the retail store.
Some stores have an employee work at the fitting rooms. The employee will count how many clothes a person brings into the fitting rooms and ensure that they come out with the same number of clothes. This is to prevent people from using the fitting rooms to shoplift.
In the United States, shoppers are under no actual obligation to accede to such a search unless the employee has reasonable grounds to suspect shoplifting and arrests the customer or takes or looks at the receipt from the customer without violating any laws or if the customer has signed a membership agreement which stipulates that customers will subject themselves to inspections before taking the purchased merchandise from the store. In the cases of Sam's Club and Costco, the contracts merely say that it is their policy to check receipts at the exit or that they "reserve the right." That wording does not specify the results of non-compliance by the customer, and since they did not have a right to re-check receipts in the first place, it may not be legally binding at all. The purchaser who holds the receipt owns the merchandise. Employees who harass, assault, touch, or detain customers or take their purchased merchandise may be committing torts or crimes against the customers.
Bottom-of-basket mirrors are commonly used in grocery stores where the checkout lanes are close together and the cashier might be unable to see the entire basket to ensure payment of all items.
Some stores will use dummy cases, also known as "dead boxes", where the box or case on the shelf is entirely empty and the customer will not be given the item they have paid for until the transaction has been completed, usually by other store staff. Some stores have been known to take this idea further by filling the dummy cases or boxes with a weight, similar to the weight of the actual item by using a weight made to fit inside the box. This causes the shoplifter to think that the box is full, trying to steal it and ending up with nothing. This was especially popular in movie rental stores such as Blockbuster Video.
Additionally, some stores such as JB Hi-Fi, BestBuy and Costco add a measure and process of conducting receipt inspection to make sure the customer is purchasing the correct item. There is another theft scheme, in which people can conceal items and then only pay for one item. Normally this is either done by customers or employees. Loss prevention/security guards would normally only ask for a bag check. The purpose is to reduce and decrease retail theft and shoplifting.
In 1937, French writer and political activist Jean Genet was arrested in Paris for shoplifting a dozen handkerchiefs from the department store Samaritaine. Genet frequently stole from shops throughout his life, including alcohol, bolts of linen, books and suits.
In 1966, Hedy Lamarr was arrested for shoplifting in Los Angeles. The charges were eventually dropped. In 1991, she was arrested on the same charge in Florida, this time for $21.48 worth of laxatives and eye drops. She pleaded "no contest" to avoid a court appearance, and in return for a promise to refrain from breaking any laws for a year, the charges were once again dropped.Salamone, Debbie (24 October 1991). "Hedy Lamarr Won't Face Theft Charges If She Stays In Line". Orlando Sentinel; retrieved 10 June 2010.
In 1980, Lady Isobel Barnett, British radio and television personality, was found guilty of shoplifting and committed suicide four days later.
In 2001, actress Winona Ryder was arrested for shoplifting at Saks Fifth Avenue department store in Beverly Hills, California. Ryder was eventually convicted of misdemeanor theft and vandalism and became eligible for expungement of the conviction after finishing probation in 2005. Ryder was originally convicted by a jury of felony larceny/vandalism and was sentenced in a nationally televised California Superior Court proceeding in December 2002.
In August 2010, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani's daughter Caroline Giuliani was arrested for stealing five beauty items worth about $100 from a Sephora store in Manhattan. She was later offered a dismissal in return for a day of community service and six months without a further offense.
In 2012, British chef and TV presenter Antony Worrall Thompson was arrested for shoplifting "...three onions and two pots of...coleslaw from a branch of Tesco" and "...received a caution" from authorities.