Though the aisles of his local grocery store are filled with regular weekly customers, Paly student James Smith, who agreed to be interviewed if his name was changed, isn’t there to purchase food. Instead, his eyes are focused on the employees and the constant uncertainty of their movements, prepared to exit at the slightest turn of their backs.
For Smith, shoplifting has become part of his daily life. It all started in his freshman year when he would get hungry.
“I didn’t have much money, so I would go after school and try to (steal) some food, as time went on, I just kept doing it whenever I got hungry. It weirdly kind of became a lifestyle.”Smith said.
Teenagers in particular have long been guilty of shoplifting, and make up 25 percent of the general shoplifting population, with 55 percent of adult shoplifters having started the unethical practice during their adolescent years, according to the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention (NASP).
Large retail chains are constantly attempting to combat shoplifters by using specialized tags, cameras and sensors. These methods have mixed results, and some shoplifters attempt to steal despite sensors and alarms blaring, according to Town and Country CVS Pharmacy shift supervisor Shantel Connor.
“Adults will come in late at night with plastic containers, fill them with products and then run for it,” Connor said. “The sensors go off anyways, but they don’t care.”
Connor said shoplifters are a persistent issue, and require employees to be constantly vigilant for anyone displaying suspicious behavior.
“We get shoplifters every day, all day,” Connor said. “It doesn’t matter what the product is — if they want it, they take it. It happens throughout the day, but around lunch we get more student shoplifters, and near the evening it’s mostly adults.”
Connor said employees greet all customers, thus subtly acknowledging customers with eye contact and keeping an eye on them. This tactic has been successful in preventing some shoplifters, instilling fear in them as soon as they enter the store.
“There was this one lady who literally looked at me and couldn’t do it — she just turned around and walked right back out,” Connor said.
Some shoplifters go into stores without any intention of stealing, but end up deciding to commit the crime while in the store. According to the NASP, 72 percent of juvenile shoplifters do not plan in advance. Smith, however, is not part of that majority, as he often plans out his actions beforehand.
“It really depends on the store, but most times I’ll scope out what kind of security they have and see if their cameras are placed in spots where they can view everything,” Smith said. “As corny as this sounds, I try to go in and examine the store as if I was in one of those heist films.”
Some smaller retail businesses have a tougher time preventing theft due to the lack of resources. Paly senior Maddie Lindsay, an employee at Brandy Melville, said shoplifting occurs daily.
“A ton of people do it, and you only kind of see when it’s clothes because they have sensors, our jewelry does not have sensors on it, and I know dozens of people take our jewelry every day.” said Lindsay
Brandy Melville has a security system that consists of a large sensor and cameras, and as more people started to steal, the employees began to individually check customer’s purchases and receipts.
“If the sensor goes off, we’re allowed to check their shopping bags and their backpacks, and a lot of the times what they do is they’ll come to the store wearing a big sweatshirt, and stuff clothing underneath,” Lindsay said. “Shoplifters used to know that we only checked bags, so once we realized that they would hide in their sweatshirts, we started to catch them more frequently.”
However, legal ramifications don’t always deter shoplifters—33 percent of adolescents continue to shoplift even after being caught, according to the NASP.
“I’ve been caught once, and all they did was ban me from the store, but I was right back there a few days later,” Smith said. “They really didn’t try to keep me out, it feels like.”
According to Lindsay, workers’ approaches to shoplifters can differ based on the age of the thief. Lindsay recalls an incident where two middle school girls attempted to shoplift by having one put an article of clothing underneath her shirt while the other bought a product, staging a distraction. The sensor went off, and Lindsay proceeded to check the customer for any stolen goods.
“The girl tried to act as if the product had just appeared there under her shirt, and of course we weren’t buying it,” Lindsay said. “We don’t call security because they’re so young; we just call their parents, and that’s usually a lot scarier than traditional security.”
For most shoplifters, there is a sort of “high” that comes with getting away with stealing that has been compared to the rush of doing drugs.
“I think there is definitely a thrill involved with it, like a sort of an adrenaline rush associated with it, but that’s not why I typically do it,” Smith said. “When I do it, I think I usually try to take something I might need, food and stuff like that, but once in a while, I’ll do it as a dare for my friends.”