Survey asks teens why so many shoplift

Tuesday, July 3, 2001

Annually, retailers lose over $10 billion from shoplifting. Statistics indicate 38 percent of the culprits are teenagers. That is a disturbing figure since teens only make up 10 percent of the population, says Judith Forney, University of North Texas dean of the School of Merchandising and Hospitality Management.In trying to understand teen shoplifting motives, Forney and Christy Crutsinger, associate merchandising professor, interviewed a group of first-time offenders, ages 11 to 17. Due to the fact they were surveying juveniles, the researchers could not ask incriminating questions about unlawful activities. Instead they questioned why teens believe members of their age group shoplift.Most members of the survey group were referred to juvenile court for shoplifting offenses and were participating in a diversion program along with their parents. The researchers investigated clothing theft because branded apparel is a favorite item of juvenile shoplifters. During teen years, adolescents attach high importance to clothing approved by their friends. This pressure to fit in may contribute to why teens shoplift. Retail stores are the most frequent targets because they're often understaffed, have easy-access displays and offer self-service merchandising.Although culprits are generally males between the ages of 15 and 17, the interviewed teens didn't think age and gender play a part in who will shoplift. However, Forney and Crutsinger determined that parents might influence a youngster's inclination to shoplift. The interviewed teenagers indicated that their peers shoplift clothing according to how involved their parents are in their clothing decisions.Those whose parents were not involved in their clothes shopping, believe their peers shoplifted because of too many parental and other restrictions. In this situation, teens are acting out against authority or control.In contrast, others whose parents take an active role in their clothing purchases believe teens shoplifted for the thrill of the experience or because friends do it.Forney believes the overall solution may be more parental involvement. She says, by becoming more involved in teens' day-to-day activities, such as purchasing clothing, parents can provide positive experiences that help teens better understand why restrictions are placed on some products. Although some parents may already be involved, peer-driven motives might be reduced as parents focus on helping their teen develop a positive self-identity. Retailers could help combat teen shoplifting by promoting shopping as a family activity, the UNT researchers said. "With an increased emphasis on entertainment in retail settings, shopping is quickly becoming an important form of family entertainment. Retailers might offer family-oriented events focused on teen activities (e.g. prom, back-to-school, athletics) that will bring families into the store for shopping fun," Forney explained. For more information, contact Dr. Forney at (940) 565-2436.

UNT News Service Phone Number: (940) 565-2108