Shoplifters are those people who take articles from retail stores. Items stolen may be as small as buttons, as bulky as a stuffed toy animal; as inexpensive as a pencil or as costly as a diamond; and the shoplifter may be a minor, an adult, or a person of advanced age. The shoplifter may combine this illegal activity with legitimate shopping (typically in food stores) and the crime can be a one-time affair or a habitual pattern of behaviour. Some shoplifters are professional criminals who later offer the stolen goods for sale.
A major problem is that much shoplifting appears to be involuntary. Current methods of display in retail stores may create too much temptation which the individual finds unable to resist even though he or she may wish to do so. Or the individual may have normal respect for property in all other situations but somehow does not see shoplifting as a crime. It becomes a habit that is difficult to break.
It has been estimated that in the USA, one in 52 supermarket customers steals something and that the annual value of goods stolen is in excess of US$ 2,000 million. In the UK, based on 1.5 million thefts witnessed by retailers, the total loss from all stores and markets is estimated at over 1% of retail turnover and increasing at a rate of 15% a year, with estimates that profits would be 23% higher but for the cost of crimes ranging from shoplifting to robbery and ram-raiding, amounting to £516 million in 1993. Shoplifting costs Australian retailers more than A$1000 million a year and is increasing at a rate of 20% a year.
Up to one-half of 'Inventory shrinkage' attributed to shop-lifting may be due to employee theft and poor accounting.