MUSCAT // Shoplifting has become a major problem in Oman and retailers have said that they are losing thousands of rials a month from criminals who bypass the till.
Thieves stalk crowded shops to take advantage of packed stalls. Their prime targets have been fashion outlets, where they can walk out with famous brand products.
"My job is to take stocks on products that go missing after shoplifters walk out with them without paying", said Suleiman Haddad, an independent stock accountant who has been contracted by both international fashion franchises and local outlets.
"The reports I have prepared for four different outlets I have been working for in the past six months reveal that products worth nearly 250,000 rials [Dh2.4m] went missing from the shelves in this period."
Omani police said that they have not received many calls for shoplifting, only about a half dozen or so a month, but believe the problem has been under-reported.
"We make about six arrests a month on average for shoplifting but we know many are not reported to us because shop assistants don't notice it is taking place or they let them go if they return the goods," a police spokesman said.
Some big retailers said they were considering installing surveillance cameras in their shops because store detectives are not always effective.
"We may need to invest more money in security such as surveillance cameras and more store detectives. Shoplifters operate better during the weekends and peak times and take advantage of big crowds," said a supervisor of Zara, an international clothing chain.
But investing in more store detectives and cameras will increase the operating costs and the additional expenses would be passed to customers.
"We can put more money in beefing up the store security but our running costs will go up. Our customers will suffer for it since we would need to justify the additional expenses. But spending more money on security will help us spot shoplifters quite easily," said a floor manager of Next, one of the most popular department stores in the country.
The most vulnerable outlets and the favourite targets of shoplifters have been jewellery shops and retailers who sold perfumes, Mr Haddad said.
Shoplifters tended to operate in a small group, said Qamar Hussain, a shop assistant at Jawahir Oman, one of the leading jewellery outlets in the sultanate.
"They would ask for smaller pieces of jewellery and pretend to take interest. They would then distract the attention of the sales assistant while one of them would slip an item in the handbag."
Products also go missing at large beauty outlets, particularly in shopping malls, according to sales staff.
"Rarely a shoplifter acts alone," said a sales assistant at Areej beauty product outlet. "In a beauty shop, mostly women, would have an accomplice to confuse sales assistants while the other would help herself with the items that they would not pay [for] when they leave. We catch one or two a month but we know many more get away."
Shoplifters thrive during festival seasons such as Ramadan, Eid, Christmas and Diwali when large crowds throng the shops, a mall manager said.
John Menezes, a manager at Saham Shopping Mall, said: "Shoplifting will not be possible to eradicate no matter what security you invest in. We may reduce drastically but not stop it in totality. It is almost impossible to ensure no one walks away without paying in religious festivals. In Ramadan, about 2,000 customers walk in our premises every day for the whole month."