How Grocery Stores Can Reduce Internal Theft and Grazing


Let’s talk about internal theft and grazing for a moment. Let me start by asking a question. WHEN Exactly is Theft? That is not a typo. Sure… we could ask, “What is theft“… and the canned answer would be as follows:

“Theft is simply the act or crime of stealing somebody else’s property.”

Let’s be honest here; knowing that doesn’t exactly help us stop it from happening. It is my opinion that we must understand WHY it happens; or more to the point… WHEN.

Theft of any type occurs when three elements are present: Motive, Desire, and Opportunity.

  • Motive: (for lack of better words) is the “reason.” This varies but is only the starting point.
  • Desire: is the “want” behind the reason. It builds on the MOTIVE by imagining the satisfaction of doing it. This could be a hungry man imagining the satisfaction of not being hungry anymore, a young lady imagining herself in that designer dress, or the disgruntled employee who may feel justified in getting back at the company. It could also be something as simple as the rush of doing it. This is usually the emotional aspect. It’s not always logical.
  • Opportunity: is a combination of favorable circumstances or situations and the absence of barriers that prevent someone from taking an item.

You may have figured out that we probably cannot control either the Motive or Desire, but we can control the Opportunity, especially when it comes to internal theft. Furthermore, however you and your store management decide to tackle this problem is entirely up to you, but it helps tremendously to know what you are up against before you go fight it.

Think about this: internal theft is high when the opportunity is present. If security systems are lax or supervision is indifferent, the temptation to steal items that are improperly secured or unaccountable may be too much to resist. Threats of dismissal or prosecution of any employee found stealing are NEVER as effective as the belief that any theft will be discovered by management supervision*.

This may seem entirely too simple, but the idea is highly researched and is known as the “Theft Triangle.” Knowing and understanding this allows an opportunity to correct the problem. However, YOU will need a team. That is where management comes in.

Grazing and internal theft will continue to be a problem because 1) current offenders have yet to be caught and probably teach their friends how they are doing it, 2) most employees probably understand (and see) that there is no CCTV coverage in certain areas 3) current and future offenders may be emboldened by a lack of supervision, and in that, would obviously feel comfortable in the idea that they will not get caught when the incident is occurring. We could even go as far as to say 4) we will never be able to control the motive or desire.

Approaching this logically, we can take the preceding and the following pieces to come up with our possible solution (an inexpensive one at that):

  1. In most cases, a request for additional cameras will more than likely be denied due to cost. Hence, having CCTV surveillance of an area in which you believe the events are occurring may not be an option.
  2. This leaves you with the inevitable “increased supervision” aspect. This is in an effort to increase the opportunity of catching the offenders while said incidents are occurring or to deter the behavior, to begin with.

The ONLY way I see these incidents being resolved (given the restrictions) would be to increase the supervision of the affected area within the suspected time period of occurrence. This responsibility falls primarily on the shoulders of the management during the affected shifts. This control should, however, be blanketed across all management and shifts to ensure fairness and due diligence.

The truth is that if you are experiencing this in your stores, most current routines are already providing an opportunity for said incidents to occur. A constant adjustment in routine might provide the opportunity to catch the offenders. Management might try to tell you that it is solely an Asset Protection job to remedy the situation. This is wrong. You should note that if Asset Protection makes a “special” routine change, the behavior you seek will cease while Asset Protection is active on that new routine. These problems are best remedied without drawing special attention outside of these recommended control adjustments. Of course, you may not have Asset Protection, which makes this even more critical.

Next step towards resolution (a broad recommendation): Mandate that all management of all shifts begin making random and frequent stops into the areas with little or no CCTV coverage throughout their shifts. This could be made into a procedural control and used as a best practice throughout the organization as well. It will not be necessary for AP to provide any camera locations. This increase in traffic can simply be attributed to stronger control methods throughout the facility but should focus on neglected areas of the store, including; deli prep, produce prep, bakery, backrooms, etc. IE: Somewhere NOT on the sales floor.

How does this work? It’s called the “Self Preservation Factor.” If management has a newfound habit of just “popping in” in all areas of the facility, people are going to be less apt to steal because the opportunity to do so has been reduced. This happens because the opportunity of getting caught has INCREASED. Remember, this will always be a trade-off.

Yes, this activity may infringe upon the Asset Protection mission, but it can increase overall profitability. Perhaps you just use this method if you have a situation you simply cannot seem to get a hold of. You can look at it this way: if a manager on rounds sees an associate in an area they are not supposed to be in, and it is an area that you feel is being affected… you may not have your answer, but you sure have been given another clue. You may have also found an internal you didn’t know you had. In turn, it will also increase communication between Asset Protection and management, and that is also important.

I believe this slight increase in management traffic would greatly impact the internal theft/grazing situations many currently face. I do not believe this Procedural Control would present too much of an inconvenience or disruption in operations as it really is only “sticking your head in” into normally neglected areas of your facility several times a shift.

It should also be noted that this method will not STOP theft. It merely reduces the occurrence and provides opportunities for leads in troubled areas. I hope these tips help you and provide insight into the things we often forget.

Want more tips on reducing employee theft? Check out some of these tips from Entrepreneur Magazine.

Read my article titled, “The Next Step in Dealing with Organized Retail Crime.

*Ref: (Handbook of Loss Prevention and Crime Prevention; 4th Edition: Subsection “Management Responsibility in Loss Prevention” excerpt From Robert J. Fischer and Gion Green, Introduction to Security, 7th ed. (Boston: Butterwroth-Heinemann, Elsevier, 2003)25