A Season of Petty Theft

'Shoplifters of the World Unite' by The Smiths


Shoplifting has always fascinated me. Catching shoplifters used to be a part of my working life when I was holding down retail jobs in the late 1980s and early 1990s. My last retail job was in 1998, or so, and that was a part-time bookstore position that took a very "enlightened" view towards shoplifting. In essence, the store didn't care; catching shoplifters was a time-consuming and regular customer-ignoring activity and so it was discouraged in order to maintain a more "civil" atmosphere in the store.

I've caught several shoplifters; most, if not all, I just let go. I think there were a few that were detained, but that was because I was not running the store at the time or the only one in the store. In several cases, there was no point in calling the police; I would have had to have shut down the store because I was the only one in it. Take the merchandise, let the shoplifter go. That's the way to do it.

I'm not surprised at the list; people are in desperate straits. The item at the end is worth a blog post if only because MSNBC.com has, on staff, some twit who things typing "ewwwwwww" is meaningful and entertaining. This, being a news item, is not where you make a comment about the fact that other human beings like to wash themselves and stay clean.

But, a little analysis is in order. The reason why people steal Axe body wash is because it is more expensive than other products in that same vein. And, it's in a part of a retail store that is not under heavy surveillance. So it's an item that is appealing, it's worth about the same as a value meal, and it isn't being watched night and day by the closed-circuit television monitors.

People are going to steal, and there is very little that will deter them. People steal in good times and in bad; it usually comes down to their personal situation. Are they stealing for psychological reasons or are they stealing because they're sick of being broke?