Shoplifters Take Advantage of Lax Security in Malls

Essam Al-Ghalib, Arab News
Publication Date: 
Sat, 2005-02-12 03:00

JEDDAH, 12 February 2005 — Several supermarkets and retail outlets throughout the Kingdom are hiring plainclothes security to combat what seems to be a rising tide in shoplifting. An Arab News investigation has revealed however that security at most stores is inadequate and the very cost of theft is often passed on to consumers by way of raised prices.

“Shoplifting is a huge, huge, huge problem. It is a bigger problem here than in many other countries,” said Majed Batterjee, group customer service manager of Batterjee Security Products, which provides electronic sensor equipment and tags for many retail stores in the Kingdom.

“People come in with a lighter and a drill and try to melt the electronic sensor tags off the merchandise. People also rip the tag off destroying the garment and then fix it at home later,” Batterjee added.

“Many businesses are coming to understand that theft is a problem and beginning to pay more attention to protecting their assets. Some companies are being more proactive in reducing their shrinkage by investing in electronic surveillance technology,” he said.

Arab News contacted the general manager of a large group of Jeddah- based grocery stores when researching this article. The manager suggested that we put both his uniformed and plainclothes security personnel to the test. A time was set up for the following day to walk into this grocery chain’s main store and attempt to walk out with unpaid-for merchandise. At the request of the store, Arab News will not report on how the theft was carried out, but in 22 minutes, Arab News was able to walk out with SR1,400 worth of merchandise, undetected by anyone.

A report was prepared for the general manager who, though disappointed, said he wasn’t surprised. “We have a contract with a security company that provides us with female plainclothes personnel. Their job is to blend in and keep an eye on things. When she sees a person shoplifting, she notifies the uniformed men at the door and they stop the person outside the store,” the general manager said. “Unfortunately, they don’t catch them all,” he added.

The operations manager for the security company providing the female detectives said: “Security guards are never enough. Stores need to be more proactive in protecting their assets. This includes training their own staff and investing in theft deterrence devices and cameras. Most people think that theft is not really a problem because they are under the perception that we amputate for theft in Saudi Arabia. The fact of the matter is that the stores don’t even call the police.”

A system of civil demand exists where those caught shoplifting are required to pay a sliding-scale fine in lieu of contacting the police, and outright bans from entering any other branches of the retail chain do very little to curb the theft. A walk around this store revealed several empty packages which according to Kirk Forbes, operations manager of San Francisco-based North Star Security Services is an indicator that items are being stolen either by customers or employees.

According to leading loss prevention and asset protection experts at the Retail Loss Prevention Exchange ( 60 percent of retail theft is internal, committed by employees. According to Forbes, employees have the most knowledge about the way the operation works and in time learn about the business’ security flaws. “Most dishonest employees start stealing on average three weeks after starting a new job. These are the easiest to catch, but the longer they stay, the better they get. These employees are the hardest to catch,” Forbes told Arab News.

In Saudi Arabia, theft has become a way of life for some, but for others it is an addiction.

“Most people we catch shoplifting are women, though men do it too,” one security guard in Jeddah told Arab News. “For the women it is easier because they are wearing abayas which help them conceal things and they carry big bags. The male security guards don’t like to watch them or confront them because they are women. They almost always start yelling and screaming that they were being sexually harassed. No one likes to be in that situation,” he continued.

“All one has to do to see the lack of awareness in theft prevention is walk around any mall or chain of stores. There are very few operating camera surveillance systems in place and very few stores use inventory alarm systems to protect their wares. Stores that train their employees in spotting and reporting shoplifters are non-existent,” the Saudi security company’s operations manager said. “For as long as businesses are passing along the cost of their shrink to honest shoppers who continue to pay higher prices, asset protection will remain a low priority,” he added.

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