How to spot a shoplifter with modern video surveillance technology

June 9, 2023

Modern problems require modern solutions, and the rise of organized retail crime (ORC) is one such problem. Advice on how to spot a shoplifter is often stuck in the past, considering only the threats and the tools that were available in the 1980s. However, today the risk is higher. Thankfully, the tools available are also much better.

In this article, we go through what you need to know about shoplifting, including the telltale signs that help you spot a shoplifter, how you can reduce the risks of shoplifting, and how to combat shoplifting with modern tools. We also provide a mini case study at the end on how Solink can help you identify shoplifters, including ORC shoplifting campaigns.

To see how Solink’s VSaaS platform can help you get a handle on shoplifting, sign up for a demo today.

Shoplifting is the most common form of external retail theft. Shoplifting is most often considered stealing items from a store, but this is not the only activity that qualifies as shoplifting. Depending on the jurisdiction, someone may be guilty of shoplifting if they do any of the following:

  • Change a price tag
  • Conceal an item in some way
  • Put merchandise in a pocket or bag
  • Remove merchandise from its package
  • Remove security tags or other anti-theft devices

Signs of a Shoplifter

Shoplifters can be any age, race, gender, or social class. When considering how to spot a shoplifter, you need to go beyond visual identifiers and look at their activities as they move through your establishment.

The following are some of the ways you can identify a potential shoplifter.

Previous shoplifters

There is a saying that goes “the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.” Once you identify shoplifters, be sure to inform your staff. That way your employees can be extra-vigilant when they are on the premises (or kindly ask them to leave).

If your stores are in malls or other commercial districts, consider connecting with other owners in the same complex to share information about potential shoplifters. This could help reduce everyone’s shrinkage.

Oversized bags

Large bags can fit more stolen goods. While most people who carry a large bag are making a fashion statement, those who are intent on stealing have the ability to take even more merchandise with a large bag.


Winter clothes in summer

Oversized clothing in general could be a shoplifting indicator. As with large bags, oversized coats can conceal more stolen items. Long scarves can also help hide a person’s hand as they stuff merchandise into a pocket.

If someone is wearing a large jacket and/or scarf on warmer days, then you might want to be on the lookout for shoplifting.

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Repeat visits (especially without purchases)

If you sell expensive jewelry, it can be normal for someone to visit several times before making a purchase. Similarly, a fashionable clothing store might attract weekly visitors who want to see what’s new.

However, when sales aren’t coming from patrons who visit frequently, then they might be stealing. It is worth directing your video surveillance to these frequent visitors to make sure they aren’t putting items into their pockets or bags.

Groups that split up

While a teenager may run away from their parents when entering stores, most friends will browse together. However, large groups tend to be noticed by salespeople as they represent the potential for multiple sales.

To avoid the unwanted attention, groups of shoplifters will sometimes separate when they enter a store and target different sections. If you see a group of people enter the store together and then disperse, be on alert for shoplifting.

Distracting staff members

Organized retail crime (ORC) is the term used to describe multiple people working together to steal from retail outlets. ORC is usually coordinated and managed by professional crime rings. Groups dispersing is one way a team can work together to steal more items. Another way is for one person to distract any nearby staff members with random questions while others steal as much as possible.

Two women looking at products in a beauty store.

In fact, employees have long been the cornerstone of a solid loss prevention system. However, labor shortages and new shoplifting tactics have made relying on staffing to prevent shrinkage more difficult.

Asking to check the backroom

This can be another way to distract employees, without the need for a partner. A person comes into the store and finds items that are out of stock in their size. They then ask the employee to check the backroom for the out-of-stock item and put whatever they can in their bag or under their jacket before the staff member returns.

If your staff member returns from the stockroom to see their customer has left the store, you should have them notify you ASAP. There’s a chance that something might have been stolen.

Keeping an eye on the staff

When someone is focused on the staff instead of the merchandise for sale, there’s a good chance they aren’t shopping.

security camera illustrations in row

Finding the security cameras

Most people ignore security cameras. They are part of the infrastructure background that our eyes have learned to ignore. So, when someone is looking directly at multiple security cameras in turn, it could be an indication that they are trying to find a blindspot.

Loose price tags

As mentioned above, not every shoplifting event is taking merchandise out of the store without paying. Some shoplifters will change price tags to pay less money for expensive items. Loose price tags are an indication that someone has removed the original price tag and replaced it with a less expensive one.

Be sure to train your staff to confirm that item descriptions in the point of sale (POS) match what they are scanning.

A rack of clothes with a price tag on it.

Bringing many items into the changeroom

If your store doesn’t count the number of items patrons bring into the changeroom, then you risk some ending up in bags or stuffed under shirts. Some shoplifters will bring a dozen or more items into the changeroom in hopes that it’ll be easy to leave ten behind and bring another three home without anyone noticing.

Short visits

When someone stays a very short time in your establishment compared to the average patron, it might be an indication that they are shoplifting.

Odd changeroom behavior

Many shoplifters use the changeroom to move items into their bags or under their loose fitting clothes. You should be extra vigilant when you notice specific unusual behaviors. For example, shoplifters are more likely to fill up a changeroom with many items in hopes staff will lose track of exactly how many items they brought in with them. Another sign of shoplifting is multiple people going into the same changeroom.

Shopping during off hours

While you might think shoplifters would take advantage of busy periods with distracted staff to steal, this is not always the case. Many shoplifters are equally worried that other customers will spot them stealing from your store so choose to take things during off hours. Whether there is one visitor or one hundred in your store, make sure staff are keeping an eye out for shoplifters.

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Modern loss prevention strategies

With the rise of organized retail crime (ORC), many of the loss prevention strategies that worked even 10 years ago no longer suffice. These tried-and-true strategies still have their place as part of today’s loss prevention systems. However, they need to be augmented and enhanced with modern tools.

Here are some of the main systems you need in place to reduce shrinkage due to shoplifting. For a complete list of the technologies and processes you need to put in place to have a solid loss prevention system, we encourage you to read our separate article on the topic.

Video surveillance

Business security cameras have been the technological cornerstone of loss prevention management for decades. Especially modern HD, or even 4K, security cameras can be used by law enforcement.

Criminals know this and are often deterred from shoplifting when there is a heavy camera presence.

Cctv camera in a shopping mall.

Advanced video analytics

Video surveillance alone can discourage some criminals from shoplifting. However, others might assume that the video isn’t being monitored. That’s not a terrible assumption as searching through hours of footage on multiple cameras is a time-consuming and tedious task.

Having multiple professionals doing this for each retail location could quickly become more expensive than the losses due to shoplifting. This is one of the places where Solink brings great return on investment.

By combining case management software, exception-based reporting, and video surveillance, Solink simplifies loss prevention management. Instead of spending all day looking for a shoplifting event, Solink automatically shows you the moments of interest.

To find out how Solink’s video analytics platform can revolutionize your loss prevention system, sign up for a demo today.

Employee training and coaching

Traditional loss prevention training often consists of training employees on their responsibilities to the company and some basic information on how to spot shoplifters.

This is problematic for two reasons.

First, employees are hard to find and keep during the current labor shortage. When you hire new employees, it can be difficult to take time to train on loss prevention. The manager is also often picking up the slack caused by staff shortages and might not have time to go through the loss prevention training manual with new employees.

Second, shoplifting and employee theft tactics are changing. A training session in 2022 can’t cover the new forms of theft that will spread in 2023.

Thankfully, Solink can help with this. By finding and saving video clips of suspicious transactions in your businesses, Solink can help you build an ongoing loss prevention program.

When you find a new form of theft, or you notice new identifying traits of shoplifters—in how they dress or move around your shop—you can save those videos and share them with your team. This helps train staff on how to spot a shoplifter and reinforces the idea that you take theft seriously, so employees don’t fall into the theft triangle.

Inventory controls

Keeping tight control on your inventory requires a combination of new technologies and traditional processes. Employees should be trained to check manifests of inventory entering the store. Then, they need to confirm that the merchandise being sold matches the names in the point of sale (POS) as it exits the store.

A woman is using a scanner in a clothing store.

Modern POS can help with inventory management. This is improved further with the Solink system. Solink integrates with your POS data so you can search by transaction types, for example, voids or sales with >20% total discount applied, and then pairs it with video of the transaction occurring.

Electronic article surveillance

Electronic article surveillance (EAS) technology allows you to tag your merchandise so alarms go off if they leave the store before being processed at the POS. EAS come in many forms, and they are a great way to deter patrons from shoplifting.

security camera illustrations in row

How to spot a shoplifter FAQ

What behaviors or patterns might indicate someone is shoplifting?

Behaviors like avoiding eye contact, wandering aimlessly, watching staff or security, carrying large bags or wearing oversized clothing, and lingering in certain areas without making a purchase might indicate potential shoplifting.

How can modern video surveillance technology aid in identifying potential shoplifters?

Modern video surveillance can analyze behavior, track movements, and alert staff to suspicious activities based on predefined patterns, significantly aiding in the identification of potential shoplifters.

What role does staff training play in effectively spotting and preventing shoplifting?

Staff training is crucial for effectively spotting and preventing shoplifting, as it equips employees with the knowledge to recognize suspicious behaviors and the procedures to follow when they suspect shoplifting, enhancing the overall security strategy.

Solink has many tools to help you spot a shoplifter. This case study, adapted from a real-life event, focuses on just one of those tools: motion search.

10:00 –An associate finds an EAS tag under some clothing while straightening out a shelf. They notify the manager.

10:15 –The manager uses Solink motion search to find any activity around where the EAS tag was found starting at 10:00 and working backwards.

10:17 –Since motion search automatically skips the time between motion events, the manager has already found the moment when the EAS tag was hidden under the clothing.

10:18 – The manager then uses Camera Linking AI to follow the suspect’s path through the store. Camera Linking intuitively switches from camera to camera to give you a “Google Street View” of your business.

10:19 – The video clips of the suspected shoplifting event have been saved and sent to law enforcement, head office, and any other stakeholders right from the Solink app

In just a few minutes, the manager can find the event, save all of the relevant video clips, and notify both head office and law enforcement about the suspected shoplifting event. This makes case management fast and easy.

To find out how Solink can help you with your case management, sign up for a demo today.

Find what your looking for in seconds

Learn how easy it is to pinpoint what your looking for with motion search.

Learn how to sift through hours of video in seconds with a product demo of Solink's motion search feature

Want to learn more?