Retail chains battle shoplifting

Students and women pocket small items and walk away without paying. Every month, stores lose between Rs 50,000 and Rs 1 lakh to theft

Shopkeepers say that women outnumber men in shoplifting and some even initiate their children into the crime.

Shoplifters are having a field day at the city’s supermarkets and retail chains.

They are mostly women between 25 and 40, and many of them walk in with children.

At several supermarkets, managers put their monthly loss to shoplifting at between Rs 50,000 and Rs 1 lakh.

One of the city’s oldest supermarkets, near St John’s High School in Bengaluru East area, manages to catch quite a few in the act.

“We take suspects to the police station where they confess. Women outnumber men in this regard,” the manager told Metrolife. 

Some who steal at the supermarkets also initiate their children into the crime. Many shoplifters are well-dressed and look respectable, he says.

“They are embarrassed and don’t admit it when we catch them,” says the owner, who refused to be named in this story. 

CCTVs help the staff confront shoplifters with proof. Those who own smaller neighbourhood grocery stores, like the ones in Jayanagar and Kammanahalli, don’t find CCTVs so useful.

Ravi Stores, near the Jayanagar 4th Block bus terminus, regularly finds lipsticks, eyeliners, nail cutters and cold cream bottles going missing. “We have caught students stuff these items into their bags and jeans pockets. They say they don’t get money from their parents and so have to steal. I have let off so many of them because they plead with me,” says the owner. 

A grocery store in Kammanahalli, near Jal Vajyu Vihar, loses between Rs 25,000 and Rs 50,000 a month. 

“We don’t rely on CCTVs but we have our staff monitoring people. Chocolates, lotions and deodorants top the list of items that get stolen,” says the shopkeeper. His staff has caught equal numbers of men and women.

While some women are shoplifters, others are kleptomaniacs, with a psychological compulsion to steal.

Dr Divyashree K R, consultant psychiatrist, Aster CMI, says kleptomania should not be confused with shoplifting. 

“Kleptomania is a rare mental health problem which falls in the category of impulse control disorders. Here, the patient develops an irresistible urge to steal things usually from a shop. It’s the ‘act of stealing’ that gives the person a high rather than the object stolen. The act is not planned, it is impulsive,” she explains. 

Kleptomania is caused by an imbalance of a brain chemical called serotonin. “People with this condition need to see a psychiatrist. It is treated with medication and behavioural therapy,” she says.

Kleptomania is more common among women than men. Another impulse control disease, pathological gambling, is more common in men, Divyashree says.

She also feels women tend to involve children because shopkeepers are less likely to suspect them. “This acts as a cover,” she says.

Academic view

Kala Seetharam Sridhar, professor and head, Centre for Research in Urban Affairs, ISEC, thinks low wages indirectly trigger kleptomania.

In the course of a study funded by the Indian Council of Social Science Research and Azim Premji University, Kala discovered that the ‘reservation wage’ is the lowest a job seeker
is willing to take home as pay when switching employers.

As a majority of women get fewer net benefits (wages over and above reservation wages) than men, they may be pushed to compensate by other means, she suggests.

“They get salaries only 32 per cent more than their asking wage, whereas men get nearly 45 per cent. This could be one of the reasons that drives them,” she reasons.

What triggers kleptomania?

Dr Akanksha Pandey, consultant clinical psychologist, Fortis Hospital, says kleptomania is usually followed by feelings of shame and guilt.

Kleptomania sends signals to the brain that a pleasurable activity has been performed. This activity gets registered into the limbic system as a ‘reward’. Therefore, whenever the kleptomaniac is in stress, the limbic system starts looking for the same reward to calm down, she explains.

Family can help

People close to kleptomaniacs should understand the illness and be part of a few therapy sessions. “The family must be co-therapist to maintain the corrective measures even at home. This helps them overcome guilt and speed up the road to recovery,” she says.

Most affected

- Retail chains
- Cosmetics stores
- Stationery Stores

Items often stolen

- Lipsticks, lip balm
- Eyeliners
- Cold creams and lotions
- Chocolate bars
- Deodorants
- Nail cutters

What the cops do

Ravi D Channannavar, DCP (West division), Bengaluru, says that such small cases usually don’t get reported. “People come with more serious complaints. Whichever cases go unreported, go undetected. Unless during interrogation, the one who has committed the crime reveals the details and the case gets registered,” says Ravi. He also says that sometimes cases like shoplifting fall under the category of compoundable offence wherein the two parties decide to arrive at a compromise to settle the case. He also says that cases related to shoplifting fall under section 379, which is punishment for theft. The section states: whoever commits theft shall be pun­ished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.

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Retail chains battle shoplifting

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