What do you do with shoplifters?
The first day I opened a young woman with a toddler asked to use the toilet for the little one. I acquiesced and as soon as she left the shop I noticed that some new books by Tess Gerritsen that she has been looking at were also gone. They had nice shiny white covers and were conspicuous by their absence. The visit out the back was a ploy to hide them in the stroller. I vowed to keep an eye out for her but she never came back. I think in hindsight she must have known I would notice they were missing as we had talked about the author.
Then there was the gentleman with a newspaper tucked under his arm; Friday afteroon without a word he strides purposefully down to the classics, pausing only for a moment then striding just as purposefully back out of the shop. Just long enough to tuck a book in with the newspaper under his arm. The next Friday he does the same, the Friday after that as he leaves I stand at the door and with baleful eye watch him cross the street to his bus. He doesn’t come back.
A young man is obviously drunk and tucking books under his denim jacket. As he leaves I say “Excuse me, excuse me” in an embarrassed tone. He is so obvious not even I could miss him. He immediately turns around with a sheepish grin and hands me back the books he has taken. “Please don’t come back” I say.
A young couple come in; they have the look of the drug users who come to the local pharmacy to get their methadone. They have been in before looking for true crime, last time they ended up spending $2 on a couple of magazines. My 15 year old son is helping me this day and pulls out eight books from a series they were looking for. As they leave ‘empty handed’ he says “Mum, I gave them eight books and they only gave me back five”.
I figure they are at the train station; with a rush of adrenalin I dash up onto the station platform. They are sitting in the waiting room. She is on her mobile phone, talking loudly about nothing. He is reading one of MY books. “You took my books” I say. She says in a put- down tone “Do you mind? I am on the phone” He says “They are mine” I pick one up, my store stamp and writing are clearly to be seen. I suggest we discuss the matter with the police officer parked outside the station booking a motorist. “No, no” he capitulates “I’ll pay for them”.
I quietly give him the rounds of the kitchen as we walk back the shop leaving her to continue the oh so important telephone conversation, I was not yelling, but letting him know how I feel. “I’ve taken $17 today” and ” You think because I have a shop that I am rich, well I am not. I have four children to support and this is my only source of income. ” He gets out his EFTPOS card and pays for the books. He looks shamefaced and insists on paying a little extra. I figure he is paying something towards the ones they stole the last time they were in the shop. He leaves without the books. I relax a little “Please take them” I say “but I’d really appreciate it if you don’t come back”.
Some shoplifters dart in and before you even notice them they and the books are gone, this time my brand new Stephenie Meyers. I move the rest of the Twilights closer to the register. One woman opens the shop door, reaches in and takes one from the stack next to the door. I think she comes in when I am not there and positions the ones she wants. I stop having a stack of cheapies near the door.
Another one takes advantage of the fact I am standing on a stool shelving books up the back, I just catch sight of her as she go out the door with a Woman’s Weekly Cookbook under her arm, only $6 but she couldn’t pay for it. I watch her go up to her car, open the door, throw in the book and come back to my shop. I confront her and say” Oh, what would the odds be that you would first come into the shop with a book and then slip out, toss that same book in the car and then come back?” She doesn’t speak, pretends to examine the $1 specials out the front for a moment and then takes off and drives away. I let it go.
A chain book store employee comes in and we discuss shoplifting. She tells me that in their CBD store fantasy and science fiction get stolen a lot. She complimented me on having these in my line of sight at the register. I thank her but really it was sheer dumb luck that they ended up there, new age and true crime I knew were a problem so I have them close by too.
Ideally I should not have floor to ceiling shelves in the centre of the shop but I was so pressed for space I felt I had to. I have to do a few different things to make my shop more theft proof.
I do try to use some simple prevention techniques for example always greeting and farewelling customers. I offer to mind bags for people. I have a couple of little signs decorated with ladybirds scattered around the place:
Please pay for your books
Please don’t steal our books
Please present bags for inspection
The ones I know steal I gently shadow around the shop in a solicitous manner thus denying them the opportunity to take books.
I look out for certain types of open top bags, for people with square bulges on their lower backs (books tucked in back of trousers)
I do check bags from time to time though I hate asking , one cheeky elderly gentleman I asked said “I was thinking of taking one just as well I didn’t!”
I have a 2 way mirror at the entrance and tucked under the desk waiting to be installed is a CCTV camera for when I get around to it.
And most importantly I simply don’t keep any books of significant value in the shop.
10 Station St
[editors note: we once had a guy steal the first part of a 4 book series on Nazis then came back a week or so later trying to sell a stack of 5 or 6 books. Guess what was in the stack? Still had my penciled 1 of 4 inside the cover. I confronted him then sent an email to a few nearby shops. If you have any prevention tips – please share them with us.]