Theft, Robbery, Shoplifting, Fraud: Big Crime in Small Business

Retailers generally think of crimes as occasional and sickening aberrations, but the reality is that almost half of all business operators are victims of crime every year…

Crime costs small Australian businesses $170m per annum and has a powerfully negative psychological effect on both business owners and staff.

Regardless of whether the crime is shoplifting, robbery, credit card fraud or assault, a single criminal incident has the potential to sour the enjoyment of working in a store; in severe cases, an operator may choose to relocate or quit a business forever following a traumatic experience.

Crime adds to the cost of goods, ruins the state of trust that should exist between customers and businesspeople, and cheapens the entire concept of retailing.

A Small Business Crime Survey – the results of which feature in the Federal Government’s recent publication: Crime Prevention Kit for Small BusAHJsign02Nov04iness1 – indicates that the commonest form of crime is burglary. The Survey found that 27% of all retailers reported at least one burglary in the preceding 12-month period. The second-most common crime was shoplifting, affecting 21% of respondents.

As many retailers will no doubt know only too well, repeat victimisation is very common, with just 1.6% of all respondents accounting for 70% of all reported shoplifting offences. This statistic may be skewed by a small number of retailers who are particularly adept at identifying and catching shoplifters – but anecdotal evidence would suggest that shoplifting offences are extremely widespread, and sometimes go unnoticed.

When dealing with crime, most retailers have a choice: (a) turn the business into a fortress, or (b) maintain normal activities and accept crime as an incurable, unfortunate feature of retailing. Perhaps an attitude midway between the two extremes should be the goal…but how does a businessperson set the parameters?

A good place to start is to learn the rights and obligations of business operators in relation to crime.

Searching Customers
The Crime Prevention Kit states that businesses have the right to display conditions of entry on their premises.

If the proprietor expresses a right to search customers, the best approach is to be courteous and polite when implementing the policy. Staff should not touch the customer or their property, but merely request that the customer open and present a bag, etc, for inspection.

If the customer refuses to have a bag checked, the retailer must repeat the request or ask the customer to leave. Manhandling the customer is fraught with danger, as this amounts to a Citizen’s Arrest and can only be conducted legally if the retailer has reasonable grounds for arrest. Of course, “reasonable” is one of the most subjective terms in law, and arguments about its definition probably account for a fair proportion of assault statistics!

You can read the rest of this article in the November issue of the Australian Hardware Journal.