- Observant retail employees know how to identify potential shoplifters.
- Most stores have policies barring employees from directly confronting suspected thieves, but that doesn’t mean that workers won’t notice certain red flags.
- From clothing choices to a lack of eye contact, here’s what employees said they immediately notice about customers.
Retail employees know that there’s no one type of shoplifter.
One Target employee told Business Insider that their store has been targeted by everyone from “drug users to mums who are bored.”
“In some cases parents have used their children to help them,” the employee said. “It’s so sad.”
Still, when it comes to sizing up potential shoplifters, retail employees tend to notice a few things about customers from the second they walk into the store.
Most retailers employ loss-prevention officers to deal with theft, and other employees are typically barred from confronting suspected thieves.
But that doesn’t mean that these employees don’t keep an eye out for certain behaviours. Business Insider spoke to a number of retail employees about what tends to immediately raise their suspicions when it comes to customers:
Here’s what they had to say:
Employees told Business Insider that potential thieves often comport themselves in a specific way, although the behaviour can vary based on the individual shoplifter.
Some shoplifters often try “harder than normal to blend in,” one Target employee said, adding that retail employees with a “trained eye” can usually pick up on this subtle “forced relaxation.”
A different Target employee said that other shoplifters exude anxiety, walking “in a hurry, head down, trying to avoid any kind of eye contact.”
A Publix employee agreed that any obvious lack of eye contact is an instant red flag.
The Publix employee added that shoplifters often “avoid meaningful interactions or any person-to-person interaction” from the moment they enter the store.
Shoppers who walk into the store and appear to “scope out” the employees often attract attention, according to a Target employee.
A different Target employee told Business Insider that potential thieves attract attention upon entering the store because they “look around more while looking at the merchandise.”
A Publix employee said that customers with “baggier clothing” sometimes stick out, given that sagging garments offer shoplifters more room to hide stolen goods.
The same goes for customers toting large bags, according to a different Target employee.
Other employees said that they’re sometimes suspicious of people who make a quick beeline for a specific part of the store.
One Walmart employee said that they tended to notice shoppers who entered the store, only to quickly circle back to the now-defunct self-checkout station. A Publix employee expressed a similar sentiment.
A Target employee added that shoplifters “usually go straight to electronics, cosmetics, or clothing.” A different Target employee agreed that someone with their “head down” walking straight towards electronics could raise some red flags.
Two Costco employees said that thieves tend to target their warehouses’ clothing section, so anyone marching over to that part of the store might attract attention from loss-prevention officers.
One employee added that their location has a problem with people swiping underwear and leaving behind old, used pairs.
But employees agreed that the first thing they notice when you walk in the store is whether or not you’re a frequent shoplifter.
“We usually know who our thieves are,” a Target employee told Business Insider.
But a different Target employee added that not all repeat offenders are an unwelcome sight, explaining that “college kids” often visit the store to swipe utensils and sweeteners from the adjoining Starbucks. “They smile at us, at least, so we don’t mind much,” the employee said.
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