How Do I Stop Theft but Keep My “Please Touch” Approach?

by Felicia.
(Pittsfield, Massachusetts USA)

This was one of the pairs stolen at the show last week.

This was one of the pairs stolen at the show last week.

I have been hand crafting jewelry for 11 years, but I still consider myself a novice when it comes to selling my jewelry. I have only recently over the last few years made a real effort at selling. I love getting to sell in person because I feel jewelry or anything for that matter, sells better that way, people can touch it, try it on and fall in love with it.

I always encourage people at my booth to try a piece on or pick it up and examine the work I put into it. However I have experienced some thefts because I do not have my items secured to the table. For the most part they have been very small items of no real concern to me and it was very infrequent.

And this was the other pair. :( so sad I loved these ones!

And this was the other pair. ๐Ÿ™ so sad I loved these ones!

I do a local outdoor event once a month through the spring summer and fall. It is so much fun the booth fee is cheap and there are tons of local people there to shop. Unfortunately this last time I had two pairs of earrings stolen from my display, totaling about $50 in lost sales. I still feel lucky to not have had some of my expensive necklaces stolen.

But I just really want to know if others have had this problem and maybe have a solution or good preventative measure other than investing in locked cases. I really don’t want to look like a traveling jewelry store.

I have help at my booth so there are multiple people watching the table. But all of my things are unsecured to the table so anything could be picked up and made off with quickly. I just don’t want my customers to loose out on the tactile experience of handling my pieces.

Alice’s Eyes Design Company at Etsy

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  1. Reducing losses from theft are something every retailer, large or small, must consider carefully. Larger retailers calculate a certain percent of what they term “Shrinkage” into their cost calculations and factor that shrinkage into overall pricing. When the shrinkage percentage exceeds the projected acceptable amount, then the retailers examine their security measures and revise how they handle the kinds of merchandise where higher rates of theft occur.

    It is very challenging to balance accessibility with being security conscious. I wish you luck in finding just the right balance for your jewelry. In your case, I might try arranging your display so that the earrings are always in your direct line of sight. So that you and your helpers have an easier time of

  2. Stephanie says:

    What I learned in retail is that the best deterrent to theft is customer service. Always greet every customer and start conversations if possible. Know where everyone is in your booth. After giving someone a couple of minutes to peruse, follow up with them. You can be friendly and engaging without being a pushy salesperson. Also, be aware that if someone is thinking of stealing something, they are going to be pretty focused on you and watching your movements, waiting for that opportunity. However, if you’re checking up with them or wandering around your booth straightening items (being unpredictable) it may be more trouble than they are willing to risk.

    Other than that, I can only suggest keeping higher value items closest to you, maybe where you ‘ring up’ customer purchases. You might also try keeping them at a higher level or on risers and more easily in your sight lines. Try not to have displays blocking your view of your products.

    Good Luck

  3. Hi Felicia,
    It is always a worry when we do shows that someone could take a piece of our jewelry, but because both my husband and myself do shows together, another set of eyes are there and it really helps. The only time we had a problem was when we had a lot of people at our booth at the same time, and we did have a pair of earrings stolen. We have come up with a better plan now after that whereby if I am doing a transaction with a buyer, my husband keeps an eye out rather than helping me package, etc. If you can have another person in your booth with you, it is a good deterrent. Good luck!

  4. Body language…it’s a dead giveaway! I work most shows alone, so you know it’s easy to get distracted or have people stand directly in your line of sight to the rest of the booth when checking out. I had a mother/daughter double team me a few years ago. Naive as I was, I didn’t notice til they left. I’ve smartened up since then.

    It’s wonderful to be chatty and nice with our customers, but I agree with Stephanie…make sure they know YOU know they’re in the booth. I can almost feel when something’s about to go down. I remember having a young girl in with her mom, and just by her body language, I knew something was off. Sure enough, she had her back to me, and I saw her put a couple of inexpensive anklets in her pocket. I calmly beat her to the exit, and just held out my hand. She had the “doe in the headlights” look, and asked “what”? I asked her for the items she just put in her pocket.

    Truthfully, I think her mother told her to do it. She was a frightened young gal, and when I busted her, her mother came over and acted shocked…but not how a mom who didn’t know what was happening would act, if you know what I mean. I’m a way was her reaction real. The young gal said, “But you said..” and the mom cut her off. Another time, we were given a heads up about an elderly woman casing all the tents and then stealing from the higher end ones! So it just goes to show, thieves come in all shapes and sizes.

    But, it is possible to deter theft when we work alone. When I’m alone, and the tent is jammed, I get right in the middle of it and make sure I speak with every person. Then, I stand at the entrance, not the back where I usually do. It is so much easier with another set of eyes, but it’s a luxury so many of us don’t have on a regular basis. Another suggestion is to limit the number of people to your booth at one time. Having a sign out is helpful. I know it sounds like lost revenue if someone’s nose gets out of joint over it, but better that than being robbed blind!

    Hopefully, there are more good people than dishonest out there. For the few that feel it’s okay to steal from us, and it’s usually earrings, right?!…I always hope that their ears will develop some harmless, but no less irritating rash or huge, unexplainable ball on the earlobe…hahaha.

    Oh, one last thing…I have my earrings on cards I make myself…are yours just laying on the table or hook over a wire? You may want to put them on bigger cards…it’s harder to fiddle with them without being noticed!

  5. Cat, You have some very good points, which made me think of another thing we do at shows. We configure our booth to where no one comes inside. We set up our tables in such a way that they have full access to the OUTSIDE of our booth and we have a high director’s chair that we use so we can see over the whole booth. Because I don’t like to “hover” over customers, I am still available if they have questions but able to see what is going on.

  6. I agree with what Stephanie said. Stay attentive, engaged, & active. You can often spot a potential thief before a loss takes place. if you’re slumped in a chair, reading, or surrounded by distractions, your chance of a theft goes way up. If people know that you see them, it’s helpful. Also, I photograph my merchandise & I keep a smartphone and/or camera in my booth. Customers see this because I sometimes (with permission) take appreciation photos when we do artistic promos. A few mirrors don’t hurt either and help cover blind spots

  7. I do a good number of shows and have been very lucky that I have never had a theft, although I know that my turn will come some day. I have my both set up in an L-shape so that there is a counter along the front, then people have to walk down the side of the L into the booth. My tables are high, about 39″, which I think helps. On a really good day at a good show, my booth will be mobbed and I cannot even greet everyone, much less watch them all, especially in the middle of a sale. At most shows, however, I may have a few people at a time, but not mobbed. I try to greet everyone but not be too hawkish in watching them shop. I glance at them frequently. One thing I don’t have is a high director’s chair…but that is on my list to purchase soon since I think it makes more of a presence than sitting in a low chair where I’m hidden from view.

  8. I really appreciate all of your advice on this matter. I think a lot of it is how exposed I am at this particular show. My booth is far away from other vendors and people can come at me from all sides. Perhaps putting up some fabric and forcing them into a smaller area would help me watch them. I saw the woman who stole the feather earrings, and there is a good chance I’ll run into her next time I do this show. I’ll be sure to let her know she isn’t welcome. Thank you again for the good tips and keep them coming ๐Ÿ™‚ Obviously I’m not the only one experiencing this problem!

  9. Lynda says:

    Good advice above. I work my booth alone always and a few thefts have taught me. I bought concave mirrors and position them so that I can see peoples hands from where I sit/stand. I put the mirrors in the most congested places and near smaller items. I also have set up my U shaped booth so that people have to walk past me to leave. This spot is good to greet everyone also when my booth is not mobbed. I also have a sign by my bead rings that says “Stealing is mean. Please don’t be mean to me” I have gotten compliments on my sign. I wrote it that way to make people think about what they are doing and that it is not fun and games to steal, you affect another person. Another thing, usually before people steal, they look at you to see if you are watching. When I see someone look to see if I am looking, then yes, I am and I will not take my eyes off them.

  10. I really like your approach, Lynda. I am going to make this short so I can go make my new sign for my booth! I hate it when people are mean to me.

  11. I believe you will always have shop lifting. It’s one of those unavoidable facts of life. Crooks are crooks. However, you can reduce the amount of thieft. Two methods come to mind. The first is to secure a large price tag or hang tag to the higer priced, larger pieces. And my favorite method is to make sure to acknowledge everyone. If I suspect someone, I start a conversation with them, such as ask them where they are from. When the crooks know that you are aware of them they usually leave. But, their are those that are either very skilled and professional at stealing or they aren’t very bright and continue their quest. It’s sad for us to have our hard earned money leave in this fashion, but as a business I factor in a percentage for stealing. I tell myself they will eventually pay the piper.

  12. I have had theft, but was not aware until way after the fact. When I look back, the double team effect has been used the most. I work alone always so if I am engaged, answering questions, etc, I am unable to monitor customers. An upward glance is not enough. Sadly, I see no remedy for the determined shoplifter.

  13. Pam Hayes says:

    Maybe don’t display earrings in pairs. Just put one out so customers can see and touch. If they steal just one, it’s not much use to them so may be a deterrent. Shoe shops in the UK often do this. If you are interested, they bring the other shoe out. Just a thought.

  14. Hello I have been reading all the advice on theft and as I am looking to do my first stall this summer I have read about some really good ideas ๐Ÿ™‚ thank you
    ๐Ÿ™‚ I have been playing with the idea of only putting out the one of each for that touchy feelly moment but for the rest I was going to place them on a hook system with interlocking rubber bands the kind that’s covered in cloth that you wear in your hair. This way they have to undo the bands and this will give me or my father a chance to catch them to either serve them or to stop them in the act… I have seen this used in a lot of stalls used in the big shopping malls here in Australia and I have seen how effective it has been for someone working on their own.
    As I have a laptop what I might do is invest in a webcam that can be attached and record the both for the whole day and if I do have any losses I can at least check out the footage and hand it over to the local police as I live in a very very small town/village ๐Ÿ™‚ so unless they have come in from out of town they can be caught but I can also print out their photo and keep it on hand for the next time I do the stall in town ๐Ÿ™‚ and watch out for them in the future but also consult with the other stall goers and see if they have had the same problem ๐Ÿ™‚
    Agan thank you for the great ideas ๐Ÿ™‚

  15. Excellent ideas, everyone.

    I too have noticed that the shoplifting often occurs with people working in pairs – one distracts the vendor or blocks the view while the other pockets items. It also happens when your booth has many people around it. The raised directors chair is an excellent idea as no one really wants to stand through an entire day, but low chairs hide the vendor behind booth tables.

  16. I am absorbing all these excellent pointers for the upcoming art fair season! I have been selling my jewelry since 2010; but my first experience with theft came last year at the beginning of the season; as a matter of fact several vendors were robbed that day! I was alone and watchful, but I think I was ‘double teamed’ in this instance. This year I’m going to always have an assistant devoted to overlooking things discreetly!

  17. I’ve more than once had thefts where the person chatted me up for a long time and seemed very interested in everything on the table but after they left (after buying nothing) I noticed an article missing. I do enjoy clients who appear interested in my work but now I’m on my guard. However I too think letting customers touch the stones in my jewelry and touch the pieces is worth the risk.

  18. A fun and functional way that I have found is using mirrors. I have a large round mirror that I hang in the opposite corner of where my “high boy” table and chair are. That way I can see what’s going on in and around my booth even while working with a customer at my table.
    My customers love the large mirror and I believe it helps deter would be sticky fingers.
    Always acknowledging customers helps too. Another lesson I learned years ago working retail is if you are suspicious of someone, make a nice comment on either their hairstyle, outfit, anything. That tells them two things…They’re paying attention and They can easily identify me to the authorities.
    Happy selling!

  19. Angela
    If you have a photo, post it on a board in your booth. Let other possible thefts know that their photo could be next.

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