Staff who steal – what can you do?

Published on 12th July 2019

It is a sad fact of life. A small minority of customers will steal from your shop. It could be kids helping themselves to a chocolate bar - or it could be a robber with a knife who wants the contents of your till.

You know the solutions - vigilance, mirrors, cameras and a determination to prosecute can reduce the obvious ‘stock shrinkage’.

But what can you do when the thief is on your payroll?

Employee theft is a huge problem. It can start simply - someone helping themselves to a can before their break and ‘forgetting’ to pay for it. But if you're not careful, this can escalate - and quickly, sometimes. That can becomes a pack of cigarettes, which start to disappear daily. Your employee discovers that crime pays, and the next step is stealing from the cash register. It is not easy with modern equipment, but there are ways, such as taking money from customers and voiding the sale, which can be hard to detect if an employee is careful.

There are thousands of incidents of staff theft in the convenience sector each year, according to the Association of Convenience Store’s (ACS) annual crime report. The total cost to the sector is in the millions - but more important to you is the fact that each average detected staff theft costs the business owner £1,686. 

A single, dishonest employee could cost you more than all the petty shoplifters who help themselves in the course of a year - especially once they get into the habit of stealing every day. A single packet of cigarettes a day could cost close to £300 a month. Your margins are tight enough as it is - if you’re only making £2,000 profit a month it can have a huge impact on your business.

So what can you do?

The first step is realising that an employee may be stealing. Checking your till records to spot unusual numbers of no-sales is one classic pointer. If those ‘unusual’ transactions only occur with one employee, you may be right to be suspicious. 

Finding that tobacco products are going missing - when secure behind-the-counter storage makes customer theft almost impossible - is another sign of staff involvement. 

A clever thief can be adept at covering their tracks but, if you have suspicions, you need to investigate.

You can’t simply make an accusation about dishonesty without proof. Accusing somebody of theft is a highly risky move and, unless you have hard evidence to back it up, could leave you open to costly legal liabilities. Even if the employee is guilty, you need to gather some kind of hard, tangible evidence before making an accusation. 

For small-scale theft, your CCTV system can help. Make sure you have a camera that can see what is going on behind your counter. If suspicious transactions take place at the same time as suspicious actions, such as hands going to pockets, it could be the proof you need - but be sure that it happens more than once.

But theft may be on a larger scale, and staff may work in collusion. This can be more costly still - and even harder to spot. Go through your accounts with a fine tooth comb, and pay special attention to things like scratch cards. Sales of one item shouldn’t vary drastically - be suspicious if there is a sudden uptick for no apparent reason. Look at refunds and overrides - if slips are missing, it is a sign that something is wrong.

Get EPOS  to secure your cash

EPOS is a good deterrent to staff cash theft because you know exactly what will be in the till at the end of the day. Any variation can be tracked, especially if each staff member has their own log-in. If you need to investigate and find a single transaction you can. 

Of course, it is still possible for staff to help themselves to your stock, but a good, modern EPOS system can also help you manage stock, which makes it much easier for you to detect theft. If you have accurate stock figures at all times, particularly for high-value products such as tobacco and spirits, you can see when they go missing.

In fact, the biggest deterrent to staff theft is letting staff know you are vigilant and that you will spot any thieving. The latest cash-handling technology can help. Reconciling the tills at every shift change and ensuring that any discrepancy is logged, will let staff know they can’t steal - and if it is done automatically, there is little time wasted. It can make it virtually impossible to take money from your tills if you can pin it down to the second what notes and coins are put in them.

The latest systems will provide stock control too - if a bottle of vodka goes missing, you should be able to pinpoint who was on the counter when it went.

Stock control

Of course, even with cash and high-value items protected, it is still possible for staff to help themselves to low-value goods on the shop floor.

The answer is simply to keep an eye on your staff. They know that you are watching with your CCTV and, if spotted, they may try to claim that they have purchased an item. Make sure they know that you will be doing random spot checks and that they need to have a receipt and have another member of staff run it through for them if they want an item from your shelves. 

Deterrence

Simply letting staff know that you are vigilant may be enough to reduce the temptation to steal. But there is another step to take. If you do find a member of staff has been stealing, you need to make an example of them. You may not want to involve the police, particularly if the employee is someone who has been working with you for a long time, but you may have no alternative. You will need a police report to make an insurance claim if the sums involved are large enough.

You can make an immediate termination if a member of staff is being dishonest - but you should talk to your solicitor beforehand to ensure you don’t make any expensive mistakes when you do so. In a union setting, an employee has the right to have a union representative or co-worker present during an interview. Avoid discussing the employee’s specific situation with other employees or with people outside the company - but you can inform employees that an employee was terminated for theft to reinforce your anti-theft policy.

Dealing with the costs

Security, such as CCTV and EPOS, is a sound investment, helping you deal with all kinds of theft - not just by employees - and making your shop easier to run with features like automated stock control. Of course, the cost of the equipment you need may be high and you may need to arrange finance if you have a tight cash flow. Asset Finance or  Merchant Cash Advance could both help provide the cash you want to provide the security equipment you need.

At Rangewell we have lots of experience in helping retailers find the funding solutions they need. A call to us could be the first step to solving your staff theft problems. So if you are looking to upgrade your shop security equipment or POS tech, apply today or find out more


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Richard Mitchell

Richard Mitchell

Content writer
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