The holiday season brings more potential customers to brick-and-mortar retail stores, which for the most part, means increased revenue for merchants. But more shoppers also means more potential shoplifters, which can send profit margins heading in the opposite direction.

Security cameras can prove useful at catching shoplifting suspects after they steal, but there are several preventative measures retailers can take before that happens. (Anne Arundel Police )

“Everyone thinks about little Johnny stealing a pack of bubble gum, but there are also professional gangs that target stores and steal billions of dollars every year,” Joseph LaRocca, senior adviser of asset protection for the National Retail Federation, said in an interview. “Retailers have to be conscious of both.”

But in this penny-pinching economy, few shop owners have extra cash laying around with which to upgrade to the latest overhead cameras, and they certainly cannot afford to hire additional employees or security guards to keep a close eye on shoppers.

Not to worry, said LaRocca, explaining that there are plenty of shoplifting-prevention steps that won’t cost retailers a dime. Here are his top five:

Offer top-notch customer service: Greet customers right when they walk in the door and make clear that you’ll always be nearby if they need help. “If a shopper exhibits suspicious behavior, don’t walk away from the situation,” LaRocca said. “Approach the person, and if they’re a good customer, they may very well need help. If it’s someone with some shady intentions, that’s often enough to deter him or her from stealing.”

Keep your shelves clean and organized: Keep your display bins and shelves tidy and organized so customers know that you’ll recognize if something goes missing. “When things look out of place, opportunists see a chance to get away with something,” he said. “For instance, if you go into a store and find calculators tucked between some shelves of Levis or laying in food bins, you’re going to look at that and think ‘nobody will even miss this.’”

Keep oft-stolen items in plain sight: Each store has products that are most commonly eyed by thieves, and retailers should take every extra precaution to keep tabs on those goods. “Place the highly targeted items where everyone can see them,” LoRocca said. “That may be at the front of the store or by the cash register — just not in the dark back corner.”

Encourage employees to wander: When employees are walking back and forth through the store, urge them to always take a different route. “They should always walk down different aisles or along the wall, rather than going straight down the center of the store,” he said. “That will help with customer service, and it also makes them less predictable to any shoplifters.”

Chat with your neighbors: Maintain a good relationship with nearby retailers and talk regularly about any problems you are seeing. “If a store two doors down just had a major robbery or burglary, make sure you know about it right away,” LaRocca said. “They may be coming to your store next, and you want to be on the lookout.”

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