Prevention of Shoplifting

Program Goals

Prevention of Shoplifting is a crime prevention intervention designed to assess the effect of electronic tagging, uniformed guards, and store redesign on shoplifting in high-theft stores. It was implemented in a group of Dixon and Currys stores in England and Scotland in 1991.

Target Sites

The program was designed in response to an analysis of crime in a group of Dixon and Currys stores. Nine stores were identified as having high shoplifting rates and were selected as either experimental or control sites to test the effectiveness of three different interventions to reduce shoplifting.

Program Components

Three options were thus chosen to reduce the opportunity to shoplift and to increase the chance of detection: electronic tagging, uniformed guards, and store redesign. The selection of crime prevention methods was guided by rational choice theory, which suggests that individuals weigh the benefits of committing an act against the likely costs.

Store redesign was introduced primarily to reduce the opportunity for shoplifting by making it more difficult. Store manager trainees implemented the store redesign in various ways. In the Bradford, England, location, for instance, the display was changed almost every day. In Glasgow, Scotland, small packs of videotapes—a frequently stolen item—were replaced by larger bundles of tapes and moved from the floor to a more visible location.

The electronic tagging and uniformed guard methods were introduced primarily to have a deterrent effect by increasing the perceived chances of being caught. Electronic tags were designed to trigger an alarm when taken through the doors of the store, which had been equipped with electronic gates. No specific guidelines were given for activities for the uniformed guards.

Intervention ID: 
No Data.

Study 1

Nine stores were included in this project (Farrington et al. 1993), based on a 1990 measurement study of Dixons and Currys electronics and appliance stores in the U.K. These nine stores were identified as having a high level of shoplifting. Stores were assigned either to an experimental or control condition. Two stores each implemented the uniformed guard, the store redesign, or the electronic tagging. Three stores served as comparison sites. The experiment was continually monitored by management trainees and all stores were visited by the researchers.


Shoplifting in the sites was measured for 4 days pretest and 4 days posttest (Wednesday to Saturday). To measure what was being shoplifted, researchers trained management trainees to use repeated, systematic counting of specified items at the beginning and end of each day and to check till rolls. Management trainees put sticky labels on specified items and removed these labels when items were sold, given away, or used in the store; the difference between the number of counted items and the number of items tracked by removing the labels yielded the number of items shoplifted. Staff filled out a daily summary sheet, which was mailed to the researchers every day. This method allowed researchers to identify and rectify problems early in the project. The posttest measure may have been affected by a snowstorm during that posttest period that caused stores to open for shorter hours and limited the number of customers. A follow-up was conducted after the posttest to assess whether reductions in shoplifting were sustained; this follow-up period differed across the sites, ranging from 3 to 7 weeks.


Stores were divided into four groups based on comparable size, location, sales volume, and shoplifting rates. Items tracked for shoplifting included audiotapes, videotapes, films, headphones, and small domestic appliances, though the items tracked varied from site to site. The two sites using store redesign had pretest observation counts (i.e., the number of items stolen plus the number of items sold during the pretest period) of 167 and 41; the two stores using uniformed guards had pretest counts of 112 and 131; and the two stores using electronic tagging had pretest counts of 39 and 104. The control sites had pretest counts of 248, 123, and 59. Difference-of-proportion significance tests were used to compare changes over time and differences between stores.


Displacement was not measured.


Study 1

The study found some behavioral change with some interventions (electronic tagging and store redesign) but not with others (presence of a guard). Moreover, some behavioral changes were short lived while others lasted longer.


Electronic Tagging Outcomes

Electronic tagging led to a significant decrease in shoplifting. Tagging reduced the percentage of stolen items by more than 75 percent in one store and by more than 90 percent in the other store from pretest to posttest. The researchers noted that there were methods that could be used to avoid setting off the alarm, which shoplifters might learn over time, but the reduction in shoplifting was nonetheless maintained for several weeks after electronic tagging was introduced.


Store Redesign Outcomes

Store redesign also led to an immediate significant decrease in shoplifting, but this effect weakened through the follow-up period. It is possible that this result was due to the deterioration of the redesign over time. Store staff continually changed the location of items in an attempt to increase sales, without considering any possible effect on shoplifting.


Uniformed Guards Outcomes

The use of uniformed guards had no impact on shoplifting behavior.