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How to Catch a Shoplifter: Retail Theft Prevention Is Real

How to Catch a Shoplifter: Face Recognition in Retail | RecFaces

Shoplifting — or the act of an employee or a customer taking merchandise from a store without paying — causes the retail industry to lose billions of dollars in profit per year. No matter the size of a retail store, all retailers are vulnerable to shoplifting. However, there are methods you can use to make your store a less attractive prospect for shoplifters. In this guide, we’ll show you how to safeguard your retail store from product shrinkage caused by theft.

Table of Contents

Terrible Shoplifting Statistics in Recent Years
What Can Increase Retail Theft Prevention?
How Can Facial Recognition Stop Shoplifting in Retail?
How to Stop a Shoplifter FAQ
How do you detect a shoplifter?
Do stores track down shoplifters?
Which security measures should be implemented to prevent shoplifting?
What stores use face recognition?

Terrible Shoplifting Statistics in Recent Years

Shoplifting crime has been increasing globally from year to year. Nowadays, there is a prevalent attitude that shoplifting is low-risk, high-reward, and more people than ever are tempted to try it. And, when they don’t get caught, they continue, and it becomes a habit. Shoplifters are only caught 1 out of every 48 attempts — and then they are only prosecuted 50% of the time that they are caught.

Some other troubling shoplifting statistics include:

  1. Approximately 1 out of 11 people in the US are shoplifters;
  2. 55% of shoplifters began shoplifting when they were teenagers;
  3. “Professionals” make up only 3% of shoplifters — but this group is responsible for 10% (or more) of all profit loss from theft;
  4. Up to $20 billion was lost in profit during 2019, spread out across 400 million shoplifting incidents — and this was just in the US;
  5. The average US case value in 2019 was $287.42.

For a fuller list of statistics, check out our article, Shoplifting Facts.

What Can Increase Retail Theft Prevention?

Retail criminals have become more aggressive and prevalent in recent years, and loss prevention specialists surely have their work cut out for them. Thankfully, there are methods that can make retail theft prevention more proactive, if not easier. When facial recognition technology is incorporated in a retailer, this is one of the strongest deterrents to shoplifters and is also the best way of recovering stolen goods.

Even better, facial recognition as a security measure is gaining support in the US. In a 2019 survey, nearly half of respondents said that they were in favor of facial recognition’s use in catching shoplifters. As this technology becomes more prevalent, support will likely grow even stronger.

How Can Facial Recognition Stop Shoplifting in Retail?

Facial recognition is the only way to prevent shoplifting before it actually happens. It is crucial to prevent theft, as most violent retail altercations happen after somebody has been caught in the act.

So, how can facial recognition be used to prevent shoplifting in the first place? Systems that have this technology can identify previous offenders based on whether their faces’ data points match with ones in a shoplifter database. Then, the system automatically notifies the store’s security team when a match is found. Breaking the process down step-by-step, this is how it works:

  1. The live video stream captures a facial image;
  2. The system extracts facial features from the image;
  3. The image is cropped to contain just the face, and it is converted to greyscale;
  4. The face image is converted into a template, and the system’s algorithm searches a larger database for a match;
  5. The database is compared with the template and, if a match is found, a fraud notification is issued.

Often, simply offering customer service to a known shoplifter will deter them from stealing — in most cases, they will simply leave the store when they know they are being watched. By using proactive facial recognition technology, you will reduce violent crime alongside theft.

Some popular retailers that use facial recognition technology include Target, Lowe’s, and Walmart. In most cases, however, stores refuse to give clear-cut answers on whether they are using this kind of technology. As facial recognition becomes more widely accepted and stores become transparent about their use of it, shoplifting instances and case values will likely decline.


Security guards can’t stop every shoplifter, but video surveillance systems that are integrated with facial recognition technology will go a long way towards preventing theft. Such systems can be trained to identify and “remember” thousands of faces — which is far greater than any one human (or even an entire security team) can do. What’s more, thanks to cloud technology, multiple retail branches can use the same database. Thus, a shoplifter caught in Chicago would be flagged in that store’s NYC branch.

The question is — if these systems identify known criminals, how do you stop shoplifters who haven’t been caught yet? This is where AI comes into play. Surveillance systems are being developed that include emotion detection in order to flag suspicious behavior before the crime is actually committed. Such systems are still in the experimental stage, but they will definitely have a hugely beneficial impact on the retail industry when they become widespread.

How to Stop a Shoplifter FAQ

How do you detect a shoplifter?

The best way to detect a shoplifter is to use a facial recognition system; this way, your store’s security team can be notified when a known thief has entered the store. Prevention is key!

Do stores track down shoplifters?

Yes, stores often turn over video surveillance data to police authorities; in many cases, products are able to be recovered. However, there is not always criminal apprehension alongside the inventory recovery.

Which security measures should be implemented to prevent shoplifting?

Installation of cameras, proper staff training, surveillance warning signs, and mirrors are all excellent security measures.

What stores use face recognition?

Most stores refuse to answer whether or not they use facial recognition. However, Lowe’s has stated that they use it, and it has been proven that Target and Walmart are experimenting with face recognition technology.

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