Preventing Shoplifting at Grocery Stores Through Environmental Design2013-08-28T14:40:54-04:00

Andy Christ
January 2001

Because grocery stores have a small profit margin on the goods they sell it is imperative for shrinkage to kept at a minimum. With a profit margin of 5%, a store with twenty dollars of loss a day must increase sales by 120,000 dollars to break even (O’Block p.197). In my two years of working for a grocery store, I have seen the effects that design can have on the operations in the store. Properly designing the store will not eliminate shoplifting but will help reduce it. Here are some ideas in designing a store.

Design of the store needs to be considered. Stores need to have a security professional come in and work with engineers and design a plan for the store. The plan of the store should do the following. Access to the offender’s target should be time consuming (O’Block p.200). This could include a set path from the entrance that the shoppers must follow at first by eliminating shortcuts directly from the entrance to other areas of the store. Doing this would discourage the shoplifter who comes in fast, grabs a specific item, and leaves quickly through the entrance (Christman). Places where the offender could conceal themselves should be eliminated (O’Block p.200). Public restrooms should be placed close to the front of the store where more people can see who goes in and out. The necessity, placement, and type of security devices should be determined and incorporated into the design of the structure (O’Block p.200). The store perimeter should have a fence or some other barrier around it so as to limit the access to the store. Windows should be limited to the front of the store. Doors should also be limited to the main doors and emergency exits that are properly alarmed and labeled.

Displaying merchandise near doorways and crowded aisles that obstruct views should be avoided. Mirrors can be used in areas to see around corners, or to make the potential shoplifter think they are being watched (like a camera behind the mirror). The goal of this would be to change the behavior of potential shoplifters (Henslin p. 141). Electronic tags are a possibility for the small, expensive items that grocery stores sell like health and beauty products and cigarettes.

Signs and posters can be used to reinforce security messages. Signs should not only be placed where employees will see them. Signs placed around the store reinforce to the customer that the store is serious about security. Such signs could say "We prosecute shoplifters" in large writing. Also, other signs encouraging parents to watch what their children are doing, and signs that encourage other customers to notify an employee if they see someone shoplifting are good ideas (Shoplifting).

Finally, the use of cameras and lighting is important. Cameras should be placed in a fiberglass bubble so the offender cannot see the camera itself. Also, the bubbles should be placed low enough so the potential offender can see that they are there. There should be at least one bubble in every aisle, close to cash registers, cigarettes, and the health and beauty products. The lighting in the whole store needs to be good enough so there are no corners with shadows or dark hallways. The lights should run down the aisles not across. By running the lights down the aisle, the shadows would be eliminated.

Shoplifting is very common in grocery stores, especially now that grocery stores are expanding the scope of goods they carry and size of their stores. The small items and large size of most stores are factors that make stopping shoplifting difficult. Warehouse clubs, like Sam’s Club, have an employee stationed at the exit to check that the receipt matches what is being taken out of the store. In grocery stores this would be impractical to apply the same way because of the large amount of goods that are purchased and the frequency that customers leave the store. Perhaps an employee at the exit just to check for a receipt would stop certain shoplifters but not all. Also, the employees are not able to act as sales clerks and give customers personal attention as smaller retail stores can. These are difficulties with the size and scope of the grocery stores. Stopping all shoplifters is impossible but through environmental design shoplifting can be reduced.

Works Cited

Christman, J., Sennewald, C. (No date). The Mechanics of Shoplifting [Online] Available: [1999, May 1].

Henslin, J. (1997). Sociology: A Down To Earth Approach. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

McGoey, C. (No date). Shoplifting Facts [Online] Available:

Minion, R. ed. (1998). Protection Officer Training Manual. Boston: Butterworth-Heinemann.

O’Block, R., Donnermeyer, J., Doeren, S. (1991). Security and Crime Prevention. Boston: Butterworth-Heinemann.

Shoplifting Prevention (No date). [Online] Available: