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May 23, 2023

Shoplifting: How to spot a shoplifter

Article written by: The Veesion team
Reading time: 5 min
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Shoplifting is one of the main causes of inventory shrinkage in stores. It’s a criminal offence punishable by law, which clearly has a negative impact on the turnover of any type of retail business. To combat this scourge, there are various security devices and systems available. Artificial Intelligence is one of the most recent and most powerful. It helps retailers to identify the body gestures and movements typically associated with theft.


>> Infography: The 6 Most Common Techniques used by Shoplifters in Store

How to spot a shoplifter

All stores suffer from shoplifting. Perhaps you’re one of the many retailers who experienced a high shrinkage rate in 2022. Owing to the current economic climate, shoplifting is on the increase, and the profiles of shoplifters are increasingly varied. But there are certain suspicious behaviours that should ring alarm bells.

There is no typical shoplifter profile

The main difficulty for retailers is that there is no fixed profile of a shoplifter. Shoplifting may be committed on an occasional or regular basis, by a single person or by a group of individuals working together. Inflation has also led to an increase in the frequency of occasional theft. Even regular customers can be tempted to steal. Food products, alcoholic beverages and cosmetics are among the categories most affected by this scourge.

Spotting suspicious behaviour in product aisles

Certain types of suspicious behaviour may at first sight appear innocent enough. A shopper may, for example, place an item in a bag. But did you know that some thieves use a false-bottom bag? The item is kept concealed and not presented at the checkout. Another classic is to hide items in clothing: pockets and sleeves. Shoplifters may also place products at the bottom of a pram among other items purchased previously. Another type of ‘suspicious’ behaviour is eating a product in the store. Will the shopper pay for what they consumed?

Know the techniques used by shoplifters

Regular shoplifters can be very inventive and resourceful. It’s difficult to list all the techniques they use. But some of them can be considered classics.

  • Metal-lined bags: thieves sometimes use metal-lined bags to confuse security tag systems.
  • Items forgotten at the bottom of a bag or trolley: even if some customers may genuinely forget to take out every item, leaving an item in a bag, etc. is a common theft technique seen in supermarkets, especially at the checkout.
  • Swapping price tags: this technique consists in sticking the barcode of a less expensive product onto a more expensive item.
  • Mislabelling: this involves, for example, choosing a minimum price per kilo for products sold loose and/or by weight (e.g. fruit and vegetables).

Tips for preventing shoplifting

Deterrence is the best way for any retailer to protect their store against shoplifting. Whether you’re an owner or manager of a clothing store, local food shop, pharmacy or supermarket, proper deterrence means making your store secure thanks to qualified staff and a range of technological devices that are clearly visible to customers.

The security team

The presence of a security guard (or several depending on the size of the store) is often necessary in retail premises. Security staff monitor the entry and exit of customers and keep an eye on the CCTV monitors. They are the watchmen and women who intervene in the event of a flagrant act of theft.

Security camera system

Security cameras are the most important component of a store’s security system. They film and transmit a shopper’s movements through the store in real time, which can be recorded for future reference. The security personnel in charge of the CCTV can intercept a suspected shoplifter, presenting the video footage as evidence of the offence. It’s worth noting that video footage and images from video surveillance are considered admissible evidence when a shoplifting charge is filed with the police. But remember, cameras cannot be installed in fitting rooms for legal reasons.

Installing security tag systems

RFID tags and security gates are also part of a store’s security system. A RFID tag is attached directly to a product. The tag contains a small electronic chip that allows the tagged product to be tracked. If the tag is not deactivated at the checkout, it will trigger the alarm on the security gate.

Using Artificial Intelligence

If deterrence is not sufficient, retailers can turn to new technologies such as Artificial Intelligence. AI can identify the typical gestures made by a shoplifter, allowing the retailer to quickly take action to intercept the suspected offender.

How does AI help detect suspicious behaviour?

The AI uses an algorithm to recognise body movements and gestures typically associated with shoplifting. The algorithm analyses CCTV footage to identify the types of suspicious behaviour and theft techniques outlined above. These are considered to be anomalies. Please note that this AI technology does not identify individuals by means of facial recognition. It detects specific body movements and gestures; it does not focus on faces.

If an anomaly is detected, a push notification is sent to the security officer. This means that the security officer doesn’t need to constantly monitor the CCTV screen, and can take action immediately upon being notified of the shoplifting attempt by the AI software.

How to install AI in your store

Installing an AI solution is simple, and does not require any previous technical knowledge. With Veesion, all you have to do is install the software on your existing video surveillance equipment. There’s no need to change your CCTV devices, Veesion works with all camera models. It’s a fully autonomous security tool. Retailers can therefore leave it operating 24/7.

In conclusion, the ability to spot a shoplifter is based primarily on the analysis of the individual’s behaviour. Even with all the security cameras in the world, a security guard alone will never be able to spot every suspicious movement of every shoplifting attempt. A lot of behaviour is bound to escape the human eye, no matter how well trained that eye is. AI, on the other hand, offers the power to analyse countless images in real time and thus detect anomalies. It provides the security officer with all the evidence necessary to intercept a suspected shoplifter.

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