A store detective can also called a loss prevention agent or an asset protection officer. He or she typically observes shoppers in an effort to identify any shoplifting activity. Shoplifting means stealing: shoplifters take merchandise without paying for it and this costs the store in lost sales and profits. The store has to pay wholesale prices for the items it sells and if the goods are stolen rather than purchased, the retail company fails to make a profit and loses money. A store detective helps prevent shoplifting by trying to recover goods before they are removed from the store by shoplifters.
Although they work as part of a store's security, store detectives are not the same as guards. Security guards often wear uniforms and work in plain sight of customers and employees. A store detective typically works undercover among both employees and customers. Store detectives might pretend to be customers while walking through a store so that they can look for suspicious behavior.
A store detective watches for people who try to place an item that has not been purchased into a bag or pocket. Store detectives need sharp eyesight since shoplifters usually try to steal items quickly. Some shoplifters steal clothing by taking it into the store's changing rooms where they slip the unpaid merchandise into a bag they brought with them. In many cases, store detectives can search the bags to recover stolen goods, but they must report the crime to the police.
Customers who are not stealing typically do not appreciate being accused of shoplifting, and this can create a bad service experience for the store if loss prevention professionals falsely accuse a shopper. A store detective must be accurate in detecting that a customer went into the changing room with more items than he or she had when walking out. He or she also watches for signs like a bulging purse or bag that was not that way before a customer went into the changing room. The customer, however, could have placed his or her own coat in the bag, so store detectives must always be sure of shoplifting before approaching and accusing customers of theft.
Loss prevention agents or detectives usually report to the store manager. They may work part-time and travel to different store branches of a large retail company. A store detective may be hired by a security company. He or she often has previous experience as a uniformed security guard before becoming involved in protecting store assets in an undercover capacity.
In addition to watching customers shop in stores while looking for shoplifters, asset protection officers or store detectives also might secretly observe employee behavior. They may keep track of cash register money and observe employees by pretending to be customers. Oftentimes, if a store manager suspects that a staff member is stealing money or merchandise, he or she usually cannot pinpoint which employee is the culprit whereas an undercover loss prevention detective is likely to be able to do this.