A Critical Review on Shoplifting Research

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Shoplifting is a global phenomenon experienced by various retail outlets from the existing global multinationals to local, small-scale retail providers. The term regards the act of stealing goods from an existing retail establishment. It is also common to name it with various other terms, i.e. shrinkage, five-finger discount, or boosting, within the prevailing retail industry. While a majority of shoplifters are amateurs, there are individuals and even groups who specialize in this act making a living as a result of their skillful role-play. Fundamentally, shoplifting is most prevalent in self-service shops and retail outlets where consumers can take possession (physical) of the goods by moving and/ or holding them. It is through such actions that arenas of ambiguity are created for such individuals’ utilization of their illegal conduct. As Hagan (2010) provides, it is through such acts that individuals may become criminals for committing minor mistakes i.e. the accidental hiding of items or their nature of forgetting to pay for such items at the till (Hagan, 2010:128).

It is this fact that educates the resulting penalties for shoplifters, which are often less severe than those discharged in the case of general acts of theft (Hagan, 2010:128). There is often the presence of some form of legislation pertaining to shoplifting, which renders the act different from other types of theft. This results in reduced penalties, most of which are at the storeowners’, or the judge’s discretion in case of formal complaint (Hagan, 2010:132). Overall, a majority of retailers are acutely aware of the serious nature of making arrests based on false allegations and hence will only try to apprehend an individual, if the facts present to support their assertion. Depending on the prevailing localized laws, rules, and regulations, arrests are therefore the field of law enforcement officials. Contrary to the aforementioned, arrests carried out by other personnel may be deemed illegal and hence cannot hold ground in a court of law (Hagan, 2010:137).

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Shoplifting as an Unethical Behavior: Reasons

As aforementioned, shoplifting entails the theft of goods from a given retail outlet without both the knowledge and consent of the retailer. Accordingly, Berlin (2006) describes shoplifting as the act of getting something for nothing (free) without the consent of the existing retailer. It is human nature to feel elated when one is able to get something for free, as various stores showcase whenever they promote and place products for sale. This is an action towards generating consumer excitement, especially on the aspect of gaining either a bargain (discount) or an additional item in the event of a particular purchase. While a majority of shoppers do not cross over the line, a few individuals often do steal such items. Primarily, the reason behind such actions would be the gains made out of nothing viewed as a reward or gift, which in turn gives them a ‘high, excitement or lift’.

From existing studies by the MasterCard International firm, the aspects of dining and shoplifting are viewed as the primary ways in which individuals reward themselves. Consequently, through shoplifting, individual and group shoplifters are able to increase such a reward. This may, therefore, be the primary reason why individuals of all ages, color, and gender engage in such unethical acts. To be noted is that through shoplifting, the aspect of acquiring something for free does always represents more to the potential shoplifter than does the goods’ value. Consequently, for some, it represents ‘a substitute for a loss experienced’, where such individuals perceive their acts as avenues of asserting their control. This is fundamentally influenced by their anxiety, which does require relieving through such acts and actions (Berlin, 2006).

Additionally, there is the fact that other individuals do view such actions as justifiable payback (revenge) for all things given to others, as well as the little that they gained in return. Further, still, some view this as a suitable means of ‘relief mechanism’ vital in alleviating their anxiety, boredom, frustration and even depression. Shteir (2011) alludes that depression is a key effect and contributory factor in almost a third of all shoplifting cases. According to several studies conducted, there is evidence suggesting that some shoplifters do experience depression. As the most frequently identifiable physiological problem, it does provide a reason why shoplifting cases are most prevalent around holiday seasons and special occasions, such as birthdays. From all the aforementioned, it is, therefore, suitable to assert that shoplifters do perceive the act as a means of self-nourishment or as an avenue of relieving their pain or fears experienced (Shteir, 2011:66). Shoplifters, therefore, do perceive their actions as an avenue of self-nourishment and/ or of relieving pain and fear in their lives.

In truth, however, shoplifting is self-destructive behavior, which, unfortunately, shoplifters rarely acknowledge. A majority of non-professional shoplifters often engage in the same, thereby displaying a reflection of such individuals’ inability to cope with various situational contexts in life (Shteir, 2011:72). Unfortunately, it is often hard for shoplifters, even those caught only for the first time, to change their attitudes, as a majority of them have already developed the habit. With time, such habits do evolve into an addiction, which is primarily psychological in nature and is hard to stop, even in the event of being caught (Shteir, 2011:75). Addictions form when the generated excitement is not tamed, especially if people are able to get away with it. Additionally, apart from feeling good, shoplifters often perceive the temporary ‘high/ adrenaline rush’ as being worthy. This regards the elimination of their inert feelings of unhappiness, frustration, anger and even depression (Shteir, 2011:81).

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It is this realization that often leads such individuals towards committing such actions continuously, thereby developing the addiction. Shulman (2003) provides that while the aspects of guilt, shame and/ or remorse are present, most non-professional shoplifters experience a significant pull/ urge. This, unfortunately, is often too strong for a majority of individuals to aptly resist, even in the event and/ or probability of getting caught. The irony in all this is that a majority of shoplifters, having developed an addiction or a habit, do believe that they ought to be punished accordingly (Shulman, 2003:45). What they do resent however is the fact that they are simply jailed together with hardened career criminals. This, according to their view, is contrary to their expectations, where they envisioned support/ help pertinent in preventing their repetition of the same offense. Such views are held by the juvenile to adult shoplifters, thereby providing a critical point of review with regard to the effective means of tackling such activities (Shulman, 2003:49).

Case example of Bell’s Research: A Critical Review

According to the information provided, the research problem is defined at length. However, it is not critical enough to showcase the aforementioned causal elements of depression and anxiety. These, being both psychological and physiological in nature, do require different means of addressing. This is informed by the fact that while increased security surveillance can provide a measure of mitigation, other avenues are also vital, especially those concerned with dealing with the causal effects of such activities. Security measures present within Bell’s store are such as the installed CCTV system present and as an enhanced number of security guards. A basic aspect of the unethical behavior, as noted by Bell (the security manager) is that the majority of such actions are indeed committed by customers rather than staff/ employees (Shulman, 2003:77).

This holds true in not only the store’s context, but also other prevailing global situations. Stores continue experiencing losses as a result of unaccounted products not being recorded as having been sold. The research problem is clear to some extent, especially on the aspects of definition and data provision. It provides means through which Bell is able to come up with the different interpretations and reasons for the continuous occurrence of the activity. Acknowledging the fact that this is not an isolated case but a globally recognized issue further enhances the statement on the research problem. This provides the basis of his assumption that the conduct is unfortunately on the rise. Thus, there is a need for conducting various measures vital in mitigating and addressing the continued occurrence of the serious offense.

Concerning the purpose of the research, I think that it is quite clear. The purpose of the research, as stated by Bell, is towards determining whether shoplifting is present, and to what extent the activity is prevalent within the specific store affected. Furtherance is the presence of data, which provides a critical review of existing incidences. These are exemplified by the presence of unaccounted items. Official data provides an inventory of what is taken into the store, comparing the same to the amount recorded as accounted for or otherwise sold. The presence of disparities provides a clear picture of the existing vice. This, in turn, necessitates the enhancement of various security measures as was provided in the case. Through increased use of plainclothes and uniformed security officers, thefts that are more individual had been dissuaded with a number of cases being filed officially with the police (Bamfield, 2012:34).

Through enhancing security via utility of a CCTV camera system, the store in focus had witnessed a reduction in overall incidences. The reduction by more than half the number of incidences within the lapse of a month attests to the achievement gained. The big reduction witnessed is as a result of the combined effort dissuading a majority of would-be shoplifters. From the questionnaires present, the presence of CCTV evoked a different reaction as two of the answers proved the effectiveness of the system. The choice methods, according to my view, are suitable, as both quantitative and qualitative research methodology has been used. The personal interviews provided candid answers with the data from the store’s records and records prior to and after CCTV installation providing quantifiable facts. Regarding the questionnaire, I am of the view that more questions would have been presented with a section of ‘own commenting.’

In addition, engaging a wider audience is important. Through this, as Kimieckik (1995) portends, more answers would be available, differing in perspective, especially where they indicated their own comments. For such a research study, I think that the choice of methods utilized was suitable, with room for improvement exists. The official research data provided is reliable; as such data is derived from the store’s computerized records. The inventory clearly shows the disparity presented by unaccounted for products. The installation of the CCTV system does have an effect on the level of shoplifting witnessed by the store, further providing statistical facts. The informal, semi-structured interviews provide some reliable facts, as both the line managers did agree on the effects of shoplifting. From the questionnaires, aspects of structured and random sampling were utilized, though providing a narrow perspective (Kimieckik, 1995:34).

The limited number of questionnaires and the manner of sampling utilized inform this. By giving them to friends and requesting friends to engage their other friends, Bell limited the scope of sampling. Another avenue that would have provided a much more engaging dialogue would have been through random sampling of customers. With simple to answer questions and a section of individual consumer commenting, it would be possible to capture a larger audience. I agree that the researcher’s statements follow the methodology utilized. This is from the interviews with the questionnaires and concrete evidence derived from the store’s computerized records. I find the ethical issue raised is on the aspect of the kind of people who engage in this vice. From the descriptive nature of the interview, it is evident that a majority of would-be shoplifters are perceived as being dodgy in nature.

This provides a clear indication that social standing/ status is an indicator of whether one is a potential shoplifter or not. Additionally, Beattie (1995) alludes to the fact that the research concluded that females tended to be more involved in the activity, necessitating a greater focus on female customers. The solutions of both severe punishment and the education of females with regard to the costs of shoplifting provide a vital aspect of ethical means towards solving the problem (Beattie, 1995:122). To millions of individuals, the act of shoplifting does provide a maladaptive means of coping with the prevailing stresses of life. This is dependent on the ideal of easy rewards, where the desire to get something for no cost at all is very appealing. The research, while being commendable, has recommendations about both store safety and potential shoplifters (Beattie, 1995:125).

Findings of the study (Research Case Review)

From the aforementioned, the research does showcase the existence of rising prevalence of engaging in shoplifting, especially among women. Furtherance is the fact that it is not the specific (understudy) store’s experience alone, but rather many other stores. The aspect of quality products is an indicator of shoplifting trends, as Horan (1996) alludes, especially in huge stores (54). Consequently, through enhancing public awareness, in addition to addressing the issue, the store under focus has engaged in some commendable effort. There also is the additional aspect of delivering needed services and programs, especially to shoplifters and the surrounding communities. Through engaging in prevention efforts, in collaboration with the surrounding community, the store affected can reduce the overall occurrences of this activity. In the end, however, it is the prevailing quality of life within such a community that may influence the overall rates of shoplifting incidences (Horan, 1996:58).

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In addition to the research carried out, further statistics – local, state or nation-wide – would have been included. Here, the total worth of products stolen from various retailers would have been useful, quantifiable on a yearly basis. While the profile of the potential shoplifter was viewed as being dodgy in looks and character, it should be known that shoplifters can also be innocent-looking, well-dressed individuals (Horan, 1996:62). Further, there is the fact that men also engage in shoplifting, aside from their female counterparts with adults forming the largest percentage. Kids often start it out small-time, progressively engaging in such activities through their teens and eventually as adults. Another common statistic is the fact that a majority of such incidences take place at the same time the shoplifter is buying another product (Horan, 1996:66).

Another fact is that the majority of such acts are often not premeditated, but rather happen through impulsive behavior. This habit, as Joshua (2012) provides, which often develops at a young age, is further compounded by the fact that most kids do know other kids who shoplift. Worse still is the fact that the majority of such youngsters do socialize, thereby providing an avenue of peer pressure. This is one major reason why it is such a hard task to stop this activity completely. This is backed by existing data that portends to it being harder for shoplifters to disengage in such activities, even when caught. While professional shoplifters are present and engage in such activities for profit, the majority are non-professionals (Joshua, 2012:37). Thus, they often steal as a response to prevailing personal and social pressures in their lives, rather than out of greed, financial need or criminal intent.

The provision of extra information on shoplifting and present trends would be desirable. Amongst these would have been the fact that many of those items, which are shoplifted, often do belong to the same brands (Joshua, 2012:40). Further still is that shoplifting trends do differ from one age group to another, as well as on a gender basis. Upper-market stores also do witness losses, as products are stolen are often of good quality and fashionable in nature (Joshua, 2012:42). There would also have been some information on the responses of affected stores in addition to the overall economic impacts felt. A fact is that retailers, in general, have reported on the increase of shoplifting incidences. Adding to this is the truth that this activity has had a major effect on its competitive bottom line (Joshua, 2012:57).

In conclusion, the shoplifted items, whenever individuals are caught, go back to the store, thereby portending to no loss felt. In addition, many states in the U.S. have the right to recover damages of a civil nature in order to cover for the costs accrued as a result of providing enhanced security.

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