Shoplifting is a seemingly small act, but it is a crime that has significant consequences for retailers. By taking merchandise without paying, individuals deprive small businesses of their rightful revenue and disrupt our economic chain.  

Shoplifting and theft from retail stores can lead to consumer price hikes, reduced employee hours, and even store closures, impacting the local job market and the overall economy. That puts the onus on retailers to increase their security measures.

According to data from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, an estimated 57% of small businesses dealt with theft or shoplifting in 2023. Furthermore, the Retail Council of Canada estimates that shoplifting costs Canadian retailers around $5 billion annually.

While a comprehensive retail liability insurance policy that includes commercial property insurance can help a retailer recover from theft-related losses, the best way to prevent or reduce the threat of shoplifting in your store requires knowing what to watch for and taking steps to stop thieves from stealing your goods.

Ways to prevent shoplifting in a retail store

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Let’s dive into what steps you can take to protect your merchandise from theft:

How to Spot Potential Shoplifting Signs

Be aware of common shoplifting tactics, as thieves continuously develop new ways to steal without being detected. At a minimum, pay attention to individuals who enter the store regularly without purchasing anything, and look out for individuals who appear uneasy, are loitering, or appear to pick up items with little interest.

Familiarity with these most common ploys and behaviours can help you protect your store:


Be mindful of distractions! One of the oldest tricks usually occurs during busy, peak shopping hours when shoplifters work in pairs, with one distracting you or your employees while the other steals merchandise.

Stashing and layering

Shoplifters often conceal stolen items by hiding them among other items they’ve purchased or in their clothing. They may use various accompaniments like big purses, strollers, umbrellas, bulky outerwear, or other shopping bags to help them carry the stolen goods. Some shoplifters may use specially designed bags lined with metal to avoid setting off security tags. To identify shoplifters, look out for people who fit this profile. Also, shoplifters may walk with short or unnatural steps when concealing items.

Dashing or smashing

Some shoplifters carefully choose the right moment to strike — they may wait for a busy period or for sales staff to appear occupied before making a quick dash or smash (physically break through a glass window, door or display case, for example) into your store and steal merchandise without any concern for making noise or bringing attention to their actions as they run off quickly with items. Stores without security guards or anti-theft alarms at the entrance are more vulnerable to these techniques, known as the “smash and grab” or “dash and grab.”

Price switching

It’s important to note that shoplifting doesn’t always involve taking unpaid items. Some shoplifters may swap the price tags or labels of expensive items with those of cheaper ones to pay less at the checkout.

Merchandise switching

This scam is limited only by the shoplifter’s creativity (and dishonesty). It involves replacing the contents of a package with a cheaper product and paying for the brand name while receiving a lower-value item.

The scam can be performed by switching out a high-end brand of headphones with a cheaper, off-brand pair within the original packaging or by replacing expensive cosmetic products like foundation or lipstick with similar-looking, drugstore alternatives.

Return scams

This deceptive practice occurs when an individual returns an item that is counterfeit, stolen, or purchased from another retailer at a discount, often with a fake receipt or stolen receipt from another customer. It can also involve someone claiming to have lost a receipt and attempting to return an item for cash or store credit without proper documentation. Another form of this practice is trying to return items purchased online through fraudulent means in-store for money.

Checkout fraud

Self-checkout systems are convenient ways to purchase items but are also vulnerable to different scams. These scams can include intentional mis-scanning of items, such as ringing up a high-value item as a low-value one or omitting scans altogether. 

Dishonest cashiers may also collude with customers to “under-ring” items, which means they charge a lower price than the actual cost. Both of these tactics are forms of theft and can lead to financial losses for the store. (Note: commercial crime insurance covers internal theft and acts of employee dishonesty, forgery, and fraud.)

10 Ways to Prevent Shoplifting

As a retail store owner, there are steps you can take to prevent shoplifting:

1. Be attentive to customers

One of the easiest and cheapest ways to deter shoplifters is by paying attention to them (i.e., deploying customer service best practices). Greet all customers as soon as they enter your store. Not only will that make them feel welcome, but it also lets potential shoplifters know they have been noticed. Ensure to circulate the store and check in with customers to see if they need assistance.

2. Schedule enough staff

Don’t let shoplifters, especially those working in pairs, get a chance to distract your floor staff. One way to prevent this is to have enough staff on the sales floor. 

Schedule a sufficient number of employees to work on days and times when you anticipate higher customer traffic (during peak hours, store openings, closings, and shift changes) and stress the importance of being vigilant to your employees. That can help keep your store secure and minimize the risk of theft.

3. Train your staff

Your employees can be your frontline defence against shoplifting. Educate them on how to spot potential shoplifters and avoid scams or tricks (from label switching to short-changing cashiers to phoney returns). It is one of the most effective ways to defend against shoplifting. 

Additionally, your employees should be trained on standard anti-theft measures, such as the bag sizes allowed in your store. Your staff should be prepared to manage the situation professionally in a shoplifting incident. Maintain a shoplifting policy outlining how your employees should and should not respond to incidents.

4. Keep your store tidy and organized

Organizing and keeping your store’s inventory tidy is vital to prevent shoplifting. Regularly organizing your stock can help you identify missing items more efficiently, and keeping shelves adequately stocked can make it difficult for thieves to steal unnoticed. Ensure you always have a clear view of how much stock is out at any given time. Avoid tall displays and narrow or cluttered aisles and tall displays that obstruct views.

Optimizing your store’s layout can also be a significant way to prevent theft. For example, placing customer checkouts near the entrance or exit can serve as a deterrent (one last hurdle for shoplifters to overcome) and allow your staff to spot shoplifting in progress. 

5. Be mindful of high-at-risk items

While bulky electronics are not a target for your average shoplifter, tiny treasures like expensive jewellery are. These small, big-ticket items are easy to grab and tuck away.

To reduce these types of theft:

  • Keep valuable merchandise away from store exits, close to the register or well-staffed area of the store
  • Display the items behind locked display cases and cabinets
  • Leave one of each pair in an area where customers don’t have access to them
  • Show only one at-risk item at a time to a customer 

6. Install security cameras and mirrors

A highly effective solution to mitigate shoplifting is to install cameras and security mirrors in the store.

Security cameras serve multiple purposes, including deterring shoplifting, facilitating staff monitoring of the store, identifying suspicious behaviour, and providing evidence for prosecuting shoplifters (and potentially reducing your insurance premium). Anti-theft mirrors of various sizes, shapes, and visibility angles are excellent tools for reducing blind spots and increasing the visibility of products and people in small and large stores.

7. Tag items (with anti-theft devices)

Using Electronic Article Surveillance (EAS) tags is a practical loss prevention strategy. 

These tiny devices, often attached to clothing or other valuable merchandise, act as a visual deterrent and an electronic alarm trigger. When a shoplifter attempts to leave the store, passing through the deactivation zone, an alarm sounds, alerting staff and deterring theft.

8. Display prominent signage

Retail stores can use prominent signage to deter thieves and inform them that the store has taken anti-theft measures. 

These signs typically inform people of installed security cameras, whether the store is part of a local anti-theft group, that shoplifters can expect to be prosecuted, and that loitering is discouraged. Signs are a low-cost way to let thieves know that you are vigilant and that they will face consequences for shoplifting.

9. Pay attention to dressing rooms

Limit the number of clothing items a customer can take into fitting rooms at a time (and keep track of the quantity by assigning numbered tags before entering). 

Additionally, fitting rooms should be equipped with a temporary locking mechanism when not in use. By implementing this measure, you’ll create a barrier to theft. If you don’t have a lot of employees, running back and forth to unlock dressing rooms might seem like a hassle, but it’s necessary.

Lastly, you can ask customers to check their bags before trying on clothes.

10. Use retail inventory management tools

Proper inventory management practices can benefit retailers. They allow retailers to track their inventory and identify shrinkage patterns (the loss of inventory that can be attributed to factors like employee theft, shoplifting, fraud, or cashier errors). By determining which items are most vulnerable to theft, retailers can take precautionary measures to protect them.

Other Helpful Anti-Shoplifting Tips

You may want to consider implementing other measures to improve the safety and security of your store by:

  • Ensuring your store is well-lit can deter potential thieves or criminals from attempting to steal or cause harm.
  • Dividing your store into sections and assigning specific employees to each section. That can help better monitor your merchandise and customers.
  • Providing customers with receipts and spot-check receipts at the exits to prevent theft and verify that customers are not leaving without paying for their purchases.
  • During the holiday season and high-traffic periods, hiring trained security personnel may be advisable to maintain a safe and secure environment for customers and employees.
  • Joining forces with neighbouring retailers, property management, and local law enforcement to establish a support network to benefit from each other’s expertise and resources mutually.

How to Get Low-Cost Retail Insurance Now

In the dynamic world of retail, safeguarding your business is crucial, and every successful business needs a comprehensive retail insurance policy as the backbone of its risk prevention and recovery plans.

Finding the insurance protection that suits your needs and budget can be challenging for any business owner or self-employed professional. But here’s the good news: Zensurance can help.  

Our team of experts will use our extensive network of over 50 Canadian insurers to find affordable coverage tailored to your specific risks and needs. 

Fill out our online application now for a free quote. 

Let us help protect your financial wellbeing and give you peace of mind so you can stay focused on running your retail business.

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About the Author: Alexandria Anthony

Alexandria Anthony is the Team Lead, Property & Hospitality, at Zensurance.