Protecting store employees from violent shoplifters

Posted by Ryan Bauss on July 26, 2021


Research into retail violence, specifically associated with shoplifting, has sent ripples throughout the retail loss prevention / asset protection landscape, beyond the traditional methods of external theft prevention. This paper identifies five benchmarking and research exemplars to illustrate how the findings from shoplifting and violence research will influence retail programs, practices, and policies. The shoplifting studies revealed considerable alignment across the industry, yet a very provocative paradox emerged. Retailers unanimously agree that employee safety is a priority while shoplifting violence continues to soar. These findings are at considerable odds with one another. Retail executives have choices to make regarding how their priorities, and values as an organization, translate into outcomes that align with their messaging. We will explore potential solutions that allow for shoplifting mitigation and employee safety to coexist.

The first exemplar documents how shoplifting violence over the last five years has continued to increase. Additionally, how Organized Retail Crime (ORC) suspects are exhibiting higher levels of aggression during the commission of their crimes. The second describes how the transition of crimes from exterior locations, such as parking lots, to interior retail locations has resulted in more aggressive consumers, which has been increasing over the last two years, leading to record death rates. The third exemplar, which illustrates how some of the biggest retailers in the US, representing 40% of all retail (based on sales), are experiencing shoplifting violence associated with their respective shoplifting policies. The fourth exemplar documents and personalizes shoplifting violence via headlines in the news media. The final exemplar describes retail commitments to safety, why and how it is applied.  In conclusion, these exemplars of retail research offer a compelling argument for open and honest discussion around the current shoplifting practices and policies that better support retail’s commitment to workplace safety and well-being.


The year 2020 was perhaps the most disruptive start to a decade in the history of retail. The disruption, a global pandemic affecting every corner of the globe, highlighted the prioritization and acceleration of employee well-being. Nothing was more important than the safety of the 15 million employees across the US retail industry – a mantra all retail leaders could agree on. Retailers joined together, shared best practices, and collaborated for the greater good of the industry. The reason – Covid-19 was everywhere. It was a well-documented threat to the retail brick & mortar existence. Something had to be done. A return-to-work strategy was necessary for commerce to re-start and ultimately survive. Employees needed not only to be safe, but to also feel safe.

This was not always the case, however. There was a time when productivity overshadowed safety, and obligation to the firm trumped everything else. It was our tarnished history that laid the groundwork for today’s Department of Labor regulations and the evolution of Safety First!

In the 1920s, President Herbert Hoover had a vision for protecting Colorado River farming communities and supplying enough energy to power a growing populous across the Southwest. His plan would require continuous construction and over 21,000 workers. This five-year construction project would famously be known as the Hoover Dam. A job so big, it was all but impossible.

Imagine, for a moment, being tasked with preparing a steep cliffside for the pouring of more than 3 million cubic yards of concrete, as a high scaler, during the construction of this modern wonder. Dangling from a rope 800 feet above the ground, armed with explosives and jackhammers. No safety harnesses or protective gear to protect your fall. One wrong move by you or a colleague meant certain injury or worse, death. As you check your surroundings and fellow high scalers, you are forced to do the math. Statistically, some will never make it back home. In fact, 96 never did. Sadly, each of them, committed to the cause, fell victim to the theorem of probability during that five-year span. The high scaler would be known as one of deadliest jobs in United States history.

Those were typical working conditions 100 years ago, before workplace safety regulation was recognized by employers. Today, that may seem a little barbaric. But is it?

The high scaler job still exists today, in a different form. These high scalers are not charged with building dams anymore. They have traded their coveralls for nametags and instead of jackhammers, they operate cash registers. These modern-day high scalers serve our retail community as store employees. Of course, retail store employees are not falling from the high, rocky cliffs of the Colorado River valley, but they are falling victim to shoplifting violence at an alarming rate.

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