PITTSFIELD -- Shoppers aren’t the only ones who look forward to the holiday season. Shoplifters do, too.
Shoplifting increases about 75 percent during the holiday season, according to Michael Mott, the asset protection coordinator at the Walmart on Hubbard Avenue.
With assistance from the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce and Pittsfield Police Detective Kim Bertelli, Mott on Thursday gave representatives of several small businesses tips on how to reduce store thefts as they head into the most wonderful time of the year.
Thursday’s workshop was the first of four programs designed for store owners and presented by the chamber is holding in conjunction with the Pittsfield Police Department and Greylock Federal Credit Union. All four seminars take place at 1Berkshire’s executive offices on Allen Street.
Thursday’s seminar focused on what a business could do in terms of setup and floor layout to protect goods from theft.
"It was empowering," said Donna Todd Rivers, the owner of Bisque, Beads and Beyond on North Street. "It made me realize that it’s OK to hold people accountable for stealing."
As a small-business owner, Rivers said she often tries to walk a fine line between being helpful to customers and being vigilant for shoplifters.
"You can still do that and hold people accountable," she said. "Stealing is stealing."
Mott called store theft a "serious issue" that doesn’t
Mott suggested several preventive measures from greeting customers as they come in to displaying merchandise in areas where store employees can observe customers.
Shopkeepers should never leave cash registers unattended, he said.
"It’s an opportunity for someone to hit the ‘no sale’ button and pop it open," Mott said. "These days, you can even go online and find out how to do it."
Retailers have also reported an increase in what Mott called "organized retail crime" -- professional shoplifters who enter a store with a specific goal in mind. Police often find that those who fit into this category have criminal records in several states, he said.
Mott also recommended the installation of security systems, particularly cameras.
The prices of video surveillance systems are becoming more affordable, Mott said, where as "alarm system prices are really high."
Camera systems can also give police the evidence they need to prosecute, Mott said.
"If you have a camera, and you know someone took a pair of gloves, you can go back and replay the camera," Bertelli said. "You don’t have to catch them in the act."
Bertelli said employers should also not be shy about placing signs in their stores warning shoplifters that they will be prosecuted. She said legitimate shoppers won’t take offense because they aren’t looking to steal anything.
"So many stores think they are going to offend people," she said.
According to Bertelli, state law allows store owners to question shoppers who have been seen to conceal merchandise, but not to detain them. She suggested that store owners call police if they suspect someone has shoplifted.
"If you get a description, and a license plate number, we’ll stop them," she said.
Mott said store owners should use caution when confronting shoplifters, because some customers, especially those involved with drugs, can turn "very violent." Merchants should also avoid confronting shoplifters outside of their stores.
"If you start yelling and screaming at them, they’ll take off or fight you," he said. "Obviously, you don’t want a confrontation in front of the store."
The Pittsfield Police Department recommends using store layout to reduce shoplifting:
Checkout: Design the layout so customers must pass the register area and staff to exit the store.
Tidy up: Keep the store neat and orderly. Full displays and straightened shelves allow employees to notice if something is missing.
View all: Use mirrors to reduce blind spots to corners where shoplifters can hide.
Under lock and key: Place small, expensive items in locked cabinets or behind the counter.
Signage: Use signs and posters reinforcing security messages and place them in visible locations.
Security: Closed circuit television, security tags and two-way mirrors are deterrents to shoplifting.
All theft-prevention workshops take place from noon to 1:30 p.m. at 1Berkshire’s executive offices on 66 Allen St. Admission is free. The remaining workshops in the loss prevention series are:
Nov. 1: "Internal Controls, Procedures and Communication."
Nov. 8: "Credit Card and Checking Fraud."
Nov. 15: "Shoplifting Prevention."