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What is a Store Detective?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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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.

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Discussion Comments
By turquoise — On Apr 11, 2011

@fify-- I work as a store clerk and our store detectives receive on the job training. I don't think that they have to have certification, experience is probably more important.

As far as the rules go, detectives follow something called the five play strategy. In order for the detective to detain someone, they have to first see the customer without a store item. Second, they have to see the customer take item off the shelf, third, they have to see the customer hide the item.

Fourth, they have too see the customer walk towards the exit without going to the cashiers and fifth, they have to see the customer exit the store entirely. Only, then can they stop them, detain them, search their bags and alert law enforcement.

By fify — On Apr 08, 2011

This sounds like an interesting job position. What kind of training do store detectives receive and do they need specific kind of experience or some kind of license?

I'm sure that they have to follow some protocol while working. What kind of rules apply to store detectives? And who oversees them? If the store detective is also watching employees, would the store manager still know that there is a detective in the store?

By candyquilt — On Apr 05, 2011

I think that in the last couple of years, store detectives have become more important for employee theft. We all have seen the security tags on items in stores that make alarms go off when removed from the store. Even if you are looking at clothing items near the door, the alarms go off sometimes.

Employees, I think can steal more easily because they have access to registers and security equipment. Even if a store doesn't have much customer theft, it should hire a store detective to keep an eye on the employees.

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