The great majority of people respect property rights and
do not steal. While some people comply with standards of honesty
for moral reasons, others conform because they fear ostracism
or punitive action.
At each end of the consumer spectrum there are small groups
of people with diametrically opposing attitudes towards stealing.
A small percentage of people are so honest they are rarely
even tempted and would never give in even if they were. Another
small percentage of the population would steal anything, anytime.
In between, there is a massive group of normally honest people
who may be influenced to steal under certain circumstances.
Within this group, come the hoards of non-professional shoplifters
who are inflicting tremendous losses upon the retail industry
and stealing from the quality of life of the communities in
which they live.
The act of shoplifting by non-professional shoplifters is
made up of three basic components; temptation, justification
- The desire to have or do something that you know you
- When tempted, the shoplifter asks, “Should I
take this item?”
The urge to have more than basic needs lurks within most
people. The urge to “have” or “get”,
particularly without having to give something in return, is
innately appealing to most people. This is what is often called
the desire to “get something for nothing”.
This explains why people love to get gifts and consumers love
to find bargains or big sales.
However, society has created moral and legal taboos that
make it generally very difficult to get something for nothing
and stay within the rules. For most, the urge to get something
for nothing by breaking the social code is suppressed by fear
of committing a sin, fear of a damaged reputation, fear of
ostracism, fear of punishment and even fear of causing harm
to someone else.
The Consumer Dilemma - Suppose, however, a consumer
could satisfy the urge to “have” without spending
any money, without hurting anybody and without society finding
out. To a person who shoplifts, if it doesn’t really
hurt anyone it diminishes the moral fear. If no one finds
out it completely eliminates any social or punitive repercussions.
The development of the modern self-service retail environment
took down the barriers between customers and merchandise and
caused more normally honest people who know stealing is wrong,
to wonder if they could satisfy the urge to “have”
without repercussion. This is temptation.
- Something that shows an action to be reasonable, necessary
- Under justification the shoplifter asks, “Is
it bad; will anyone get hurt?”
Our nation faces a social enigma where millions of people
are stealing billions of dollars worth of merchandise but
do not consider themselves to be criminals. Consumers who
shoplift have the ability to establish separate values when
in the stores from that which they generally live by in day
to day life. For example, most consumers who shoplift would
never take a $20 bill from their neighbor’s house even
if given the opportunity.
Justification is the precept used by consumers to tell themselves
there is really nothing wrong with taking merchandise from
a “store”. People must find some rationale which
allows them to take the merchandise and still remain convinced
they are not criminals. They must rationalize that the act
of taking merchandise will not really hurt anyone. Although
the rationalization used by a consumer who steals must have
some semblance of logic, when a person is angry or emotional,
justification can be accepted with less logic. “If the
checkout line hadn’t been so long, I wouldn’t
have taken the stuff”. There is, of course, nothing
logical about coming to the conclusion that a long checkout
line is a license to steal.
People who are under stress as a result of an incident in
the store or because of some personal problem are more prone
to accept irrational justification. They look around the store,
see thousands of different items worth hundreds of thousands
of dollars and find no trouble convincing themselves that
taking a few things will not really hurt anybody. Typical
justifications for shoplifting are:
“They will not miss what I take.”
“The stores have made plenty of money off me in the
“The big guys take plenty; I am entitled to a little
“The checkout lines are too long.”
“Prices are too high.”
“Everybody else takes things.”
“I am entitled to some of the good things in life.”
“My family is entitled to some of the good things in
This, of course, is a partial list. The reasons people develop
to justify their shoplifting are endless.
Temptation is the urge to “have”, to get something
for nothing, and is linked directly to justification. Both
temptation and justification involve a thought process relating
to desire and acceptability. The third step in the shoplifting
act is motivation.
- That which gives direction to behavior.
- At the motivation stage the shoplifter asks ”Will
I get caught and will anything bad happen to me if I do get
A person can have temptation and justification but without
the motivation the act of shoplifting can not exist. Motivation
involves action. The determination that no one is watching
is the primary motivation for “honest” consumers
to steal. They want the item, they use irrational justification
to tell themselves they aren’t hurting anyone and then
determine if they can get the item without fear of negative
consequence. If so, the shoplifting act takes place.
In summary, consumers who shoplift often give in to temptation
because of irrational justifications which, in part, come
from a lack of understanding as to how shoplifting relates
to society and themselves. They don’t understand (or
allow themselves to believe) that anyone really gets hurt
and that shoplifting steals from all of us. They erroneously
believe the stores can afford the losses and that they won’t
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