Have you experienced shoplifting in your bookshop?

What do you do with shoplifters?

Bookstore ShopliftingThe 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.

Therese Holland

McLeods Books
10 Station St
Nunawading 3131
ph 039877721

[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.]

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  • Therese, what a coincidence! I just blogged about this over on my website. Apparently, shoplifters are stealing my books in the US as well!


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  • Somehow I’ve never had this problem, but it may be due to being in a town where no one locks their car. I had a problem with my door not properly locking recently and came in a few times to find a note on the counter saying “you weren’t here, I took these books, I left you this much cash, call me at XXX-XXXX if it wasn’t enough money.” Hey, they left a note on a day I wasn’t working and left me cash, I really don’t care if it’s off by a few cents.

    I’ve since replaced the doorknob and lock. I think the previous one was from the 70s. It didn’t owe me anything.

    • Nora that just sounds idyllic. The pharmacy has closed so some of the undesirable element don’t hang around so much but shoplifting in this city isn’t going away any time soon. Leaving your car unlocked is against the law here and you can get a hefty fine for it.

      I did run away one day for a few minutes and leave the $1 trolley out to come back to find a couple waiting patiently on the window ledge to give me the $1 for their book.
      It always seems to be books I notice missing -they just don’t pinch the Clive James.

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  • Honestly I dont see how all those signs will help you reduce shoplifting.

    As a shoplifter myself, I can tell you that that sign alone would make me want to lift your books. we already know we are not supposed to do it.

    the only thing you can do to prevent it is rfid tags, but even that is not failproof.

    • I dunno Euphro. I guess the signs are an attempt to appeal to someone’s conscience. It is just a way of letting people know that I do care if they take books without paying for them. It may not deter everyone but it will prompt a change of heart for some. A sort of please treat me the way you would like to be treated philosophy.

      Stealing books is greed not need as you can borrow books from the library if you really can’t afford them.

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