feature

This is a guest post by Katelyn Gray from SmartSign.

Who doesn’t want to add to their bottom line? It could start with a sign.

According to Business Insider, American retailers lose $45 billion annually to retail theft.  Shoplifting alone accounts for $10 billion in losses. Many small businesses aren’t able to afford the same security measures used by big-box retail chains, such as expensive scanners at the front door and hidden theft-prevention tags, but signage provides an inexpensive way to curb retail theft and minimize loss.  

Losses from theft can cause huge retail chains to go out of business if left unchecked. Knowing what your signs should say and where to place them may determine whether or not a thief targets your place of business.

SmartSign co-founder and CEO Blair Brewster says "The goal of retail theft-prevention signs is to scare the thieves, not to intimidate legitimate buyers. Your signs should be a reflection of who you are and what you’re selling.”

In this post, we'll cover some practical tips and best practices on how you can use signage to deter theft. 

Best Practices

Shoplifters survey everything and everyone around them. While shoppers and staff move about the store and out of a potential shoplifter's line of sight, signs stay put 24/7.

“In a sense, shoplifters are always under surveillance by the signs,” explains Brewster.

Much like a burglar who notices a security system sign in a home’s lawn, shoplifters will also move on to another, easier mark if the proper anti-theft signage is installed.

Your front door is the first place shoppers look, so it should be the first place you install an anti-theft sign. Put a stop to any funny business by posting an easy-to-read and concise “Shoplifters Will Be Prosecuted” sign on the entrance door.

The audience for your shoplifting or surveillance signs is fairly limited: the people who really take notice are the ones looking for them. Don’t waste your precious shelf or floor space with signs. Instead, put them up high, since that’s where thieves check for surveillance cameras.

Language on the signs should reflect your company’s philosophy. For example, a jewelry store whose clientele drives BMWs may require a different kind of sign than a small town convenience store. Both should counteract theft, but in different ways. Humorous signs, like the one pictured below, might work better when trying to deter people from swiping DVDs, not diamonds. 

Another important note: There is such a thing as having too many signs, which could cause shoppers to think you’re crying wolf. Relying too heavily on signs may send the message that you don’t actually have an alarm system or surveillance cameras installed.

According to a survey released by the National Retail Federation, the most-shoplifted items include:

  • Electronics
  • Cigarettes
  • Pregnancy Tests
  • Handbags
  • Weight loss pills
  • Pain relievers
  • Infant formula
  • Alcohol
  • Razors

Consider placing anti-theft signs near your most expensive or popular products. If you sell products that consumers may be embarrassed to be seen buying, place signs near those items.  Put signs where they will be noticed, in areas with heavy foot traffic.

Depending on the tone you’d like to use, relevant theft protection sign messages include:

  • Shoplifters will be prosecuted
  • All bags are subject to search (Be aware: This is a voluntary procedure. Employees may ask to search bags, customers may decline.)
  • You are being videotaped
  • We are watching you
  • NOTICE: This area is under 24-hour video surveillance

Interestingly, research shows that signs featuring eyes double the likelihood of compliance. Recreating the feeling of being watched can be accomplished with something as simple as a pair of drawn eyes.

Employee Theft

Disappointingly, employee theft is responsible for almost half of all retail theft, even more than shoplifters. Because employees are given a certain amount of trust by management, and are more familiar with their workplace than customers, it can be tempting for employees to steal. 

Place the same signs you use near merchandise in the break room, restroom, stockroom, and other areas workers have access to.

When employees steal, it’s usually one person out of the group. You may want to customize anti-theft signage to be geared toward employees. Use the customized signs to remind employees that honesty is your company’s policy. If you make honesty the group norm, people will conform to that. 

As Brewster likes to say, “Nobody wants to talk about money, politics or employee theft. Theft prevention signs allow you to avoid awkward employee conversations about stealing from the store.”

How do signs affect loss?

Today, CCTV cameras are so small that shoppers can be left wondering if they even exist and where they are hidden. Reinforce your store’s security by informing patrons and employees that your store does indeed have surveillance cameras or an alarm system (even if it doesn’t!).  

A simple “Shoplifters Will Be Prosecuted” sign serves as an intimidating reminder of potential consequences. Signs make it easier to associate your staff with surveillance, letting customers know they’re not just there to assist shoppers but also to enforce policies.

There’s no guarantee signs will stop theft, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t post them. While loss-prevention expert King Rogers isn’t completely convinced signage alone can deter thieves from stealing, he offers up this trenchant reason to put up signs:

“I don’t think that the overriding purpose of posting a sign in the interior of a retail establishment [stating] that video surveillance is taking place is to be a deterrent to thieves. Thieves are going to steal anyway. They don’t believe in signs. What it’s really intended to be is a legal defense for the retailer.

Frequently local statutes would require that retailers or any commercial establishment utilizing camera surveillance, video surveillance, post that information [making] it available to the general public.

Signs protect the stores from liability and allow people to shop more confidently, knowing any incident will be recorded. Customers often take comfort in those signs, [and] are more accepting of surveillance; they have actually come to rely on the benefits of all those cameras, since one day it could be an incident in which they’ve been a victim.” 

Remember: Be judicious with the number of signs posted in your store. Most shoppers are honest people. If you don’t treat them with respect and trust, they will pick up on that and take their dollars elsewhere.

P.S. If you liked this post, you'll love 5 Types of Signage No Retailer Can Afford to Ignore and Why All Sales Signs Are Red: The Science of Color in Retail


About the Author

Katelyn Gray is the Social Media Associate at SmartSign. Connect with SmartSign on Twitter.