How Not to Catch a Thief

Everyone knows that theft is a major issue in the convenience store industry.   The general public hears about robberies in the media all of the time.  Convenience stores are caricatured as easy places to rob.  Many of our stores are open 24 hours a day giving people with bad intent places to go late at night like moths to a light bulb.

To an extent, this perception creates a self-fulfilling prophecy:  c-stores are robbed because we think c-stores are robbed.  The cycle starts and then continues, spiraling ever downwards.

This is the public perception.  The truth, though, is very different.  There are actually very few convenience store robberies and, on a per event basis, the largest number of thefts is of items from the store and not money.

NACS has long been the leader in theft prevention and has a very good toolbox of robbery prevention items, literature, and education.  I highly recommend it.

The CMSI golden rule is that if a robbery is occurring – it doesn’t matter if it is shoplifting or a robbery – our team members are not to confront the perpetrator and is to comply with whatever is asked of them.  As we constantly tell out team: we can replace product and money but we can’t replace them.

What I want to focus on is the greatest theft prevention device that we have –customer service.  By greeting and acknowledging each of our customers as they enter the store our staff are showing the customer that they are an individual and not some anonymous person going unnoticed in the store.  By saying hello, our staff takes away the cloak of invisibility that criminals need to have.  With that “hello”, there is usually eye contact.  Sometimes there is even a response.  Once that happens, the chances of a robbery taking place decline greatly.

As an example, let me tell you about a store that we recently took over.  The site is in a rough part of town.  The previous operator told us that they only kept the door open for a few hours every day because people would come in and walk out with items without paying for them.

Having visited the site prior to our taking it over, I noticed that the cashier didn’t acknowledge me when I entered the store, didn’t try to establish eye contact, and didn’t really even care that I was in the store.  I felt like I didn’t exist.

When we first opened the doors we had problems with people from the neighborhood just walking in and taking what they wanted.  We didn’t want to close the doors and lose what sales we did have.

In talking with our team we came up with a strategy of showering our customers with attention.  Our staff started being louder in welcoming customers into the shop.  Our managers emphasized being on the sales floor fronting shelves rather than being in the office or behind the register.  (By the way, fronting shelves is also an excellent passive theft deterrent.  When an item is removed the gap in the shelf is very evident.)

Over the next week our inventory loss went down substantially.  There were “customers” who didn’t come back to the store but we also had customers that we had suspected of taking a five finger discount who came back and became good customers.

As they say, you get more done with honey than vinegar.