Who Steals from Shops, and Why? A Case Study of Prolific Shop Theft Offenders

  • James Hunter
  • Laura Garius
  • Paul Hamilton
  • Azrini Wahidin
Part of the Crime Prevention and Security Management book series (CPSM)


Despite spending around £2bn on loss prevention, twenty-two percent of retail premises in the UK experienced shoplifting during 2014–2015, with theft by customers accounting for 72% of all crime suffered by the retail and wholesale sector (Home Office, Crime Against Businesses: Findings from the 2015 Commercial Victimisation Survey. London: Home Office, 2016). There remains, however, little data to reliably determine the characteristics of the perpetrators (Dabney, Hollinger, & Dugan, Justice Quarterly, 21, 693–728, 2004). This chapter therefore draws upon police recorded crime data between 2004–2014 in order to analyse the key characteristics of shop theft offenders in an English Core City. The narrative also examines the motivations of shop theft offenders, and their perceptions of retail security, based upon interviews conducted with some of the most prolific shop theft offenders within this city. The insights provided by these interviews reveal a group of individuals who perceive their crimes as ‘victimless’, and where the actions of the retailers in terms of the placement of products and layout of stores makes shoplifting ‘an unbelievably easy’ offence to commit.


Shop theft Offenders Motivation Security 


  1. Armitage, R. (2017). Burglars’ Take on Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design. Security Journal, 1–20.
  2. Arora, R., Khan, A., & Deyle, E. (2014). The Global Retail Theft Barometer 2014. Checkpoint Systems Inc., Thorofare. Acedido em, 60.Google Scholar
  3. Atlas, R. I. (2004). Security in the Built Environment. In J. A. Demkin (Ed.), Security Planning and Design: A Guide for Architects and Building Design Professionals (pp. 37–55). Hoboken: John Wiley and Sons.Google Scholar
  4. Bamfield, J. (2004). European Retail Theft Barometer IV. Nottingham: Retail Research Centre.Google Scholar
  5. Bamfield, J. (2012). Shopping and Crime, Crime Prevention and Security Management Series. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Beck, A., & Palmer, W. (2011). The Importance of Visual Situational Cues and Difficulty of Removal in Creating Deterrence: The Limitations of Electronic Article Surveillance Source Tagging in the Retail Environment. Journal of Applied Security Research, 6(1), 110–123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Beck, A., & Willis, A. (1995). Crime and Security: Managing the Risk to Safe Shopping. Leicester: Perpetuity Press.Google Scholar
  8. Beck, A., & Willis, A. (1998). Sales and Security: Striking the Balance. In Crime at Work (pp. 95–106). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  9. Beck, A., & Willis, A. (1999). Context-Specific Measures of CCTV Effectiveness in the Retail Sector. In N. Tilley & K. Painter (Eds.), Surveillance of Public Space: CCTV, Street Lighting and Crime Prevention, Crime Prevention Studies Series (Vol. 10, pp. 251–269). New York: Criminal Justice Press.Google Scholar
  10. Blackwood, R., & Hayes, R. (2007). Retail Electronic Article Surveillance (EAS) System Management Study. Gainesville: Loss Prevention Research Council.Google Scholar
  11. Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using Thematic Analysis in Psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cameron, M. O. (1964). The Booster and the Snitch. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  13. Cardone, C., & Hayes, R. (2012). Shoplifter Perceptions of Store Environments: An Analysis of How Physical Cues in the Retail Interior Shape Shoplifter Behavior. Journal of Applied Security Research, 7(1), 22–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Carmel-Gilfilen, C. (2013). Bridging Security and Good Design: Understanding Perceptions of Expert and Novice Shoplifters. Security Journal, 26(1), 80–105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Carroll, J., & Weaver, F. (1986). Shoplifters’ Perceptions of Crime Opportunities: A Process-Tracing Study. In D. B. Cornish & R. V. Clarke (Eds.), The Reasoning Criminal: Rational Choice Perspectives on Offending (pp. 19–37). New York: Springer-Verlag.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Clarke, R. V. (1999). Hot Products: Understanding, Anticipating and Reducing Demand for Stolen Goods. Home Office, 112. Policing and Reducing Crime Unit, Research, Development and Statistics Directorate.Google Scholar
  17. Clarke, R. V. (2005). Seven Misconceptions of Situational Crime Prevention. In N. Tilley (Ed.), Handbook of Crime Prevention and Community Safety (pp. 39–70). Cullompton: Willan Pub.Google Scholar
  18. Clarke, R. V., & Eck, J. (2003). Become a Problem-Solving Analyst. London: Jill Dando Institute of Crime Science and University College London.Google Scholar
  19. Clarke, R. V., & Petrossian, G. (2013). Shoplifting (2nd ed.). Problem-Specific Guides Series, No 11. Problem Orientated-Policing.Google Scholar
  20. Coleman, C., & Moynihan, J. (1996). Understanding Crime Data: Haunted by the Dark Figure. Buckingham: Open University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Commercial Victimisation Survey (CVS). (2015). Crime Against Businesses: Findings from the 2015 Commercial Victimisation Survey. Statistical Bulletin, 3. Retrieved May 21, 2017, from
  22. Copes, H., & Hochstetler, A. (2014). Consenting to Talk: Why Inmates Participate in Prison Research. In Their Own Words: Criminals on Crime (pp. 19–33). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Cox, D., Cox, A. D., & Moschis, G. P. (1990). When Consumer Behavior Goes Bad: An Investigation of Adolescent Shoplifting. Journal of Consumer Research, 17(2), 149–159.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Cromwell, P., Parker, L., & Mobley, S. (2010). The Five-Finger Discount. In P. Cromwell (Ed.), In Their Own Words: Criminals on Crime (5th ed., pp. 57–70). London: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Dabney, D. A., Dugan, L., Topalli, V., & Hollinger, R. C. (2006). The Impact of Implicit Stereotyping on Offender Profiling Unexpected Results from an Observational Study of Shoplifting. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 33(5), 646–674.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Dabney, D. A., Hollinger, R. C., & Dugan, L. (2004). Who Actually Steals? A Study of Covertly Observed Shoplifters. Justice Quarterly, 21(4), 693–728.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. ECR. (2010). Identifying The Top 50 Hot Products in the Fast Moving Consumer Goods Sector in the UK. White Paper. Brussels: ECR Europe Shrinkage Group.Google Scholar
  28. Farrell, G. (2010). Situational Crime Prevention and Its Discontents: Rational Choice and Harm Reduction Versus ‘Cultural Criminology’. Social Policy and Administration, 44(1), 40–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Farrington, D. P. (1999). Measuring, Explaining and Preventing Shoplifting: A Review of British Research. Security Journal, 12(1), 9–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Felson, M. (2002). Crime and Everyday Life (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks: Pine Forge Press.Google Scholar
  31. Felson, M., & Clarke, R. V. (1998). Opportunity Makes the Thief. Police Research Series, Paper, 98. Policing and Reducing Crime Unit, Research, Development and Statistics Directorate. London: Home Office.Google Scholar
  32. Gill, M. (2007). Shoplifters on Shop Theft: Implications for Retailers. Leicester: Perpetuity Research & Consultancy Ltd.Google Scholar
  33. Gill, M. (2017). Learning from Offenders: Some Iatrogenic Effect of Crime Prevention Measures. In B. LeClerc & E. U. Savona (Eds.), Crime Prevention in the 21st Century (pp. 35–45). Springer International Publishing.Google Scholar
  34. Gill, M., Howell, C., Mawby, R. I., & Pease, K. (2012). The Security Sector in Perspective. Leicester: Perpetuity Group.Google Scholar
  35. Grant, J. E., Chamberlain, S. R., Schreiber, L. R., & Odlaug, B. L. (2012). Neurocognitive Deficits Associated with Shoplifting in Young Adults. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 53(8), 1049–1055.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Grant, J. E., Odlaug, B. L., & Kim, S. W. (2010). Kleptomania: Clinical Characteristics and Relationship to Substance Use Disorders. The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 36(5), 291–295.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Hanson, R. K., Letourneau, E. J., Olver, M. E., Wilson, R. J., & Miner, M. H. (2012). Incentives for Offender Research Participation Are Both Ethical and Practical. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 39(11), 1391–1404.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Hayes, R. (2000). US Retail Store Detectives: An Analysis of Their Focus, Selection and Training. Security Journal, 13(1), 7–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Hayes, R. (2006). Store Detectives and Loss Prevention. In M. L. Gill (Ed.), The Handbook of Security (pp. 408–422). Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  40. Hayes, R., & Blackwood, R. (2006). Evaluating the Effects of EAS on Product Sales and Loss: Results of a Large-Scale Field Experiment. Security Journal, 19(4), 262–276.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Hayes, R., Downs, D. M., & Blackwood, R. (2012). Anti-Theft Procedures and Fixtures: A Randomized Controlled Trial of Two Situational Crime Prevention Measures. Journal of Experimental Criminology, 8(1), 1–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Hayes, R., Johns, T., Scicchitano, M., Downs, D., & Pietrawska, B. (2011). Evaluating the Effects of Protective Keeper Boxes on ‘Hot Product’ Loss and Sales: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Security Journal, 24(4), 357–369.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Her Majesties Inspectorate of Constabularies [HMIC]. (2017). Crimes Solved in England and Wales by Police Force Area March 2011 to March 2014. Retrieved May 25, 2017, from
  44. Hirschi, T. (1969). Causes of Delinquency. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  45. Home Office. (2016). Crime Against Businesses: Findings from the 2015 Commercial Victimisation Survey. London: Home Office.Google Scholar
  46. Hopkins, M. (2016). The Crime Drop and the Changing Face of Commercial Victimization: Reflections on the ‘Commercial Crime Drop’in the UK and the Implications for Future Research. Criminology & Criminal Justice, 16(4), 410–430.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Howell, S. D., & Proudlove, N. C. (2007). A Statistical Investigation of Inventory Shrinkage in a Large Retail Chain. International Review of Retail, Distribution and Consumer Research, 17(2), 101–120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Indermaur, D. (1999). Situational Prevention of Violent Crime: Theory and Practice in Australia. Studies on Crime and Crime Prevention, 8(1), 71–87.Google Scholar
  49. Indermaur, D., & Ferrante, A. (1993). Opportunity Violence. Second National Conference on Violence Convened by the Australian Institute of Criminology, Canberra.Google Scholar
  50. Jacobs, B. A. (2010). Serendipity in Robbery Target Selection. British Journal of Criminology, 50(3), 514–529.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Kajalo, S., & Lindblom, A. (2012). Evaluating the Effects of Formal and Informal Surveillance: A Retailer’s View. ASBBS Proceedings, 19(1), 461–471.Google Scholar
  52. Katz, J. (1988). Seductions of Crime: Moral and Sensual Attractions in Doing Evil. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  53. Klemke, L. W. (1992). The Sociology of Shoplifting: Boosters and Snitches Today. Westport, CT: Praeger.Google Scholar
  54. Lasky, N. V., Fisher, B. S., & Jacques, S. (2015). ‘Thinking Thief’ in the Crime Prevention Arms Race: Lessons Learned from Shoplifters. Security Journal, 30(3), 772–792.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Parker, J. (2000). Safer Spaces and Places: Reducing Crime by Urban Design. In International Conference on the Relationship Between the Physical Urban Environment and Crime Patterns (pp. 19–21). Szczecin.Google Scholar
  56. Poole, R., & Donovan, K. (1991). Safer Shopping: The Identification of Opportunities for Crime and Disorder in Covered Shopping Centres. London: Police Requirements Support Unit, Home Office, Science & Technology Group.Google Scholar
  57. Poyser, S. (2005). Shopping Centre Design, Decline and Crime. International Journal of Police Science & Management, 7(2), 123–136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Roe, S., & Ashe, J. (2008). Young People and Crime: Findings from the 2006 Offending, Crime and Justice Survey. Home Office Statistical Bulleting 09//08, 15 July, London: Home Office.Google Scholar
  59. Seddon, T. (2005). Paying Drug Users to Take Part in Research: Justice, Human Rights and Business Perspectives on the Use of Incentive Payments. Addiction Research & Theory, 13(2), 101–109.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Sharp, C., & Budd, T. (2005). Minority Ethnic Groups and Crime: Findings from the Offending, Crime and Justice Survey 2003 (2nd ed.), Home Office Report 33/05, London: Home Office.Google Scholar
  61. Smith, B. T., & Clarke, R. V. (2015). Shoplifting of Everyday Products that Serve Illicit Drug Uses. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 52(2), 245–269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Soothill, K. (2007). Changing Patterns of Offending Over 30 Years. Psychiatry, 6(11), 455–458.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Spriggs, A., & Gill, M. (2006). CCTV and Fight Against Retail Crime: Lessons from a National Evaluation in the UK. Security Journal, 19(4), 241–251.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Sykes, G. M., & Matza, D. (1957). Techniques of Neutralization: A Theory of Delinquency. American Sociological Review, 22(6), 664–670.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Tonglet, M. (2002). Consumer Misbehaviour: An Exploratory Study of Shoplifting. Journal of Consumer Behaviour, 1(4), 336–354.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. UK Statistics Authority. (2010). Overcoming Barriers to Trust in Crime Statistics: England and Wales. Monitoring Report, 5. London: Crown Copyright.Google Scholar
  67. Van Dijk, J. J. (1994). Understanding Crime Rates: On the Interactions Between the Rational Choices of Victims and Offenders. British Journal of Criminology, 34(2), 105–121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Wakefield, A., & Gill, M. (2009). When Security Fails. Journal of Policing, Intelligence & Counter Terrorism, 4(2), 9–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • James Hunter
    • 1
  • Laura Garius
    • 1
  • Paul Hamilton
    • 1
  • Azrini Wahidin
    • 2
  1. 1.Sociology DepartmentSchool of Social Sciences, Nottingham Trent UniversityNottinghamUK
  2. 2.School of Social Sciences, Humanities and LawTeesside UniversityMiddlesbroughUK

Personalised recommendations