Findings and Analysis
The aim of the study was to evaluate adolescent shoplifting behaviour in UK Supermarkets with major interests on factors that drive in spite of the risk of being caught. To realise this aim, qualitative data and information was collected through the use of in-depth interview. The topic is significant because adolescent as a deviant behaviour, is one of the major prevailing forms of crime, which is on an increase. Shoplifting is an interesting social aspect because despite the use of modern security and surveillance systems in UK supermarkets, the vice and the number of adolescent shoplifters has not decreased. A single participant with an experience in shoplifting was used in the study. Adolescent shoplifting behaviour in UK Supermarkets is motivated by peer pressure, perception that shoplifting is just, and it is by personal needs and conflicts rather than poverty. The study findings support majority of the existing literature and previous research studies.
In UK, one of the major prevailing forms of crime and also on the increase is shoplifting. According to Atkinson-Turner (2011), in the last five years, over 3.5 people living in the UK admitted to having shoplifted. This shows that shoplifting as a deviant behaviour is highly prevalent in the UK. Besides, more than 30 percent of all shoplifting offenses are carried out by adolescents (Forney 2001). Most of these teenagers start to shoplift on their own before joining shoplifting gangs later after discovering a shared interest. In most cases it is hard to catch the number of shoplifters which makes it even more difficult to compile a concrete database. Retailers find it hard to distinguish between shoplifters and shoppers because the members of these groups often share the same background. It is imperative to note that unlike other criminal activities, shoplifters are neither poor, uneducated, or of low social class (Sweeney 2000). Shoplifters are different from kleptomaniacs as the latter exhibit mental illness.
The tendency to shoplift among most people is driven by personal needs and conflicts rather than poverty or greed. Most of the adolescents caught in the act of shoplifting have a history of being involved in the same vice. In most cases, the deviant socialization theory is used to explain why adolescents shoplift. The theory asserts that people are more likely to get involved in shoplifting as a result of peer pressure. Previous studies show that male adolescents are more likely to shoplift compared to female adolescents (Klemke 1978). Most of the adolescent shoplift cheap commodities, which their parents can easily afford.
The area under study has shown a particular interest because it is a social problem and in spite of it being quite widespread, it has received little interest from academic research (Krasnovsky & Lane 1998). Shoplifting is an interesting social aspect because despite the use of modern security and surveillance systems in UK supermarkets, the vice and the number of adolescent shoplifters has not decreased. This shows that there is a major drive that motivates adolescents to shoplift knowing very well that they could be caught and punished.
The aim of the exploratory study is to get an insight on adolescent shoplifting behaviours in the UK supermarkets, especially on what drives adolescents to shoplift in spite of the risk of being caught. To realise this aim, qualitative data and information was collected through the use of an in-depth interview.
The reviewed literature draws from different theories used to provide an insight on influencers of shoplifting among adolescents. Ifezue et al. (2013), states that shoplifting “has become a growing concern not only among retailers but also among consumer educators, governments, and social scientists” (p. 111). The implication made is that shoplifting as a social problem affects different facets of the society. To gain an understanding on how people shoplift and what drives them to commit such crimes, sociologist and psychologists have carried numerous studies (Dabney et al. 2006; Dabney et al. 2004). In a study carried by Moschis et al. (1987) on adolescent shoplifting behaviour established that the development of shoplifting related behaviours is directly linked to the role played by peers. The research concluded that peer influence was a motivated that influenced teenagers to shoplift. The research further showed that shoplifting started at early age although the behaviour was higher during the adolescent stage. Other factors that contribute to shoplifting as indicated in the research by Moschis et al. (1987) were temptation, socio-economic background, and favourable attitudes towards shoplifting (Cox et al. 1990). To the adolescents, shoplifting was a normal activity and most of them are over confident that they will not be caught shoplifting.
According to Sweeney (2000), shoplifting may be closely related to psychological factors. This is because when a child learns to shoplift, the behaviour is more likely to be passed during different developmental and growth stages to adulthood. Moreover, personal values and attributes in some cases have significant influence on shoplifting behaviours (Sweeney 2000). Furthermore, individual placement of collectivist values versus individualist values might be helpful in predicting the tendency to shoplift in an adolescent. A study was carried in Cornwall, Canada among 9th and 12th graders in 4 different schools on teenagers shoplifting behaviours provided three categories of shoplifters: the affiliates, the daredevils, and the immoralists (Lo1994). From the research study, immoralists perceived shoplifting as a socially acceptable behaviour, affiliates had family members and friends who had shoplifted in their presence, and daredevils shoplifted if they were sure that they would not be caught in the process. Majority of the students who shoplifted in supermarkets and large malls were the ones who acknowledged shoplifting as a just and a moral behaviour.
There are three theories that could be used to explain shoplifting behaviours among adolescents (Klemke 1978). The deviant vulnerability hypothesis states that deviant behaviours are driven by educational, economic, or family problems. In respect to shoplifting, adolescents from lower economic backgrounds were likely to shoplift in comparison to children from stable families. According to deviant labelling behaviour, adolescents labelled as deviant by peers take on those characteristics and end up acting in deviant way. In the study by Klemke (1978), students who were labelled as deviant in the school setting tended to shoplift in comparison to their counterparts. Moreover, adolescents who were caught shoplifting and punished for such act tended to repeat the vice again. The Primary socialization theory suggests that deviant behaviours and drug abuse are as a result of interactions during development with primary socialization sources such as peer clusters, the school, and the family (Oetting, Deffenbacher, & Donnermeyer 1998; Turner & Cashdan 1988; Krasnovsky & Lane, 1998). In respect to shoplifting, adolescents are tempted to shoplift if their close friends agreed to shoplift as well (Klemke 1978). Moreover, the knowledge that either their family member of close friend had shoplifted in the past or has seen them shoplift motivated them to shoplift as well.
The research study which is based on a qualitative research approach examines and reflects of perceptions and attitudes of adolescent shoplifting behaviour in UK Supermarkets (Cresswell 2007). As an exploratory research, it looks into motivating factors that influence adolescent shoplifting behaviour. The use of qualitative technique in the research has allowed provides a platform from where the researcher could see the social world from the eyes of the participant (Bryman, 2008). The choice of qualitative research approach is simply because it is the most appropriate approach for undertaking an in-depth analysis of the social context surrounding adolescent shoplifting behaviour. As such, it is possible to explore the perceptions, attitudes, views, and opinions of the study subject from a social context (Runciman 2008).
Data collection entails the gathering and collation of data and information, which is later analysed and interpreted to understand the problem in question. In this context, semi-structured interview was used to collect data from the selected participant. Through the use of semi-structured interview, I was in a position to have list of areas and themes to be covered and some standardised questions (Bachman & Schutt, 2003). Besides, the use of interviews allowed the interviewer to add some questions, based on the flow of the conversation. The flexibility of the method allowed me to ask questions depending not only on the flow of the questions, but also on the situation.
The interviewee chosen is a 15 year old adolescent from one of the elementary schools (name withheld). The researcher is acquainted well with the interviewee, who was caught shoplifting on a number of occasions. The interview was carried for a period of one hour, during which time the respondent’s responses were recorded and later transcribed to enable effective data analysis (Bryman, 2008). The interview process was conducted in a neutral place, so that the respondent would not feel intimidated in any way. It is important to note that consent was sought from university human research advisory panel prior undertaking the study as well as from the parents of participant. In seeking consent from the interviewee’s parents, they were duly informed of the nature, purpose and methods of the research, as well as how the researcher intended to use the research findings.
The major limitation of the data collection method is that only a single participant was used in the case study. For this reason, it was not possible to generalise the behaviour of shoplifting among adolescents in the UK supermarkets. However, it provided a baseline on the factors that have influence on adolescent shoplifting behaviour. The time allocated was not adequate to establish a rapport that is based on mutual trust and cooperation, which could be the reason why the subject was reluctant to answers some of sensitive questions. It is vital to note that through the interview, I was able to gather adequate information that not only provided an insight on the study topic, but addressed the problem under scrutiny. Since I was dealing with an adolescent, a lot of time was spend trying to explain what some of the terms used meant and making sure that the most understandable language was used.
Qualitative analysis approach was used to analyse the data collected. As noted by Golafshani (2003):
Qualitative analysis results in a different type of knowledge than does quantitative inquiry because one party argues from the underlying philosophical nature of each paradigm, enjoying detailed interviewing and the other focuses on the apparent compatibility of the research methods, enjoying the rewards of both numbers and words (p. 602).
This means that I concentrated on the words of the respondent to analyse the situation. Both thematic and content analyses were used in the research to analyses the collected data. Under thematic analysis, patterns and themes that the respondent emphasised most were identified (Adams & Cox 2008). Narrative analysis was later employed to provide the social human experience as experienced by the respondent.
An analysis of the interview responses with the adolescent revealed interesting findings. The interviewee stated that he shoplifted for the first time because all his friends were doing it, and he wanted to impress them as well: “I wanted to be like my other mates; they would get to steal these cool stuffs from supermarkets, and would get away with it without getting caught. I wanted to prove to them that I was also capable of doing the same, you know”. This is indicative of the interviewee’s desire to belong or feel accepted by his peers. He did not want to feel left out of his social circle.
For his second shoplifting incident, the interviewee said that he was under pressure from his peers to get a certain sex magazine. All his peers were calling him a novice, as he had only shoplifted once, and they were not even sure whether he was telling the truth: “My buddies were telling me I should not call myself a shoplifter, you know, coz I had only done it once. Hell, they were not even sure whether I had actually done this. I was under a lot of pressure from my mates, and so I felt completed to act and try to appease them. Around this time, I had also started experimenting with cigarettes and alcohol and so I felt the urge to shoplift these as well, given that no shopkeeper or bar tender would sell them to me on account of my age”. All too often, teenagers feel pressured by their peers to engage in shoplifting activities so that they can belong to that circle of friends. Sometimes, shoplifting incident among adolescents is also influenced by the need to obtain forbidden items that one would ordinarily not be able to acquire at a supermarket on account of their age. Such items include sex magazines and books, cigarettes, and condoms.
Poverty was not a contributing factor towards the interviewee’s tendency to shoplift. This is because both of his parents had well paying jobs, earning in excess of £ 4000 per month: “My folks earn a decent income, so I never shoplifted due to lack of anything at home, far from it. The main reasons why I shoplifted is to have a sense of belonging with my mates”. Sometimes, poverty plays a major role in shoplifting tendencies among the adolescents. When this happens, adolescents shoplift for items that the need, and which their parents are not in a position to provide on account of their merger earnings.
The interviewee also stated that shoplifting while fully aware that you are likely to be caught gave him the thrill to try and be defiant. “It is a cool feeling knowing that you are likely to be caught stealing, and yet, there is an equal chance that you could get away with it, you know? It is a very gratifying thing to do”. Most adolescents who shoplift do so while fully aware that they would likely be caught. Nonetheless, the fact that they keep doing it anyway is indicative of their willingness to take risks and to break the law.
The aim of the exploratory study was to get an insight on the prevalence of shoplifting in the UK, especially on what drives adolescents to shoplift in spite of the risk of being caught. Although the data was collected from a single participant, findings from the data analysis confirm with past research findings that adolescent shoplifting behaviour is influenced by peer pressure. For instance, the participant shoplifted because most of his friends shoplifted. As indicated in existing literature, the current study findings have confirmed that adolescent shoplifting behaviour driven by personal needs and conflicts rather than poverty or greed. Adolescents thus shoplift to be accepted in a peer group and become a member of that group. For example, the participant was from a financially stable families, but shoplifted cheap stuff such as sex magazines, condoms, and cigarettes. This is contrary to some studies which show that adolescents shoplift as a result of poor economic backgrounds. However, we could not rule the possibility that socio-economic factors such as poverty motivate shoplifting because only a single participant was used in this study to provide the required information. To the adolescent, the notion of being caught shoplifting excites him to shop. Therefore, shoplifting is perceived as a just and a moral behaviour as found in existing literature.
The major limitation is that the study was carried from a single participant, and for this reason, it is hard to generalize the behaviour of shoplifting among adolescents in the UK supermarkets. In respect to a further study suggestions, it is recommended that a future study be conducted using multiple participants. Moreover, a mixed research approach that combines both qualitative and quantitative approaches should be used.
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1. I: Hi how are you?
2. R: I am ok thank you, and you?
3. I: I am suburb. I am glad you decided to help me with my research project.
4. R: Ok, but am noot sure I will be of much help
5. I: and why is that?
6. R: because I don’t like talking about it
7. I: I am sure you can, as I have previously informed you I am interested in your experience and getting a bit more in depth view on shoplifting.
8. R: Ok, but under the condition that the information shall be confidential and my name anonymous.
9. I: We have a deal, so are you ready?
10. R: yeah, we can start
11. I: So have you shoplifted?
12. R: yeah, I thought you already knew that
13. I: I want to be sure, and so how many times?
14. R: So far I have shoplifted five times, but caught thrice.
15. I: when did you start shoplifting?
16. R: at the age of 10 years
17. I: Mmmmh, so you started when so young
18. R: Yeah,
19. I: Anyway, why did you shoplift, knowing that you could be caught?
20. R: I was peer pressure
21. I: what do you mean by peer pressure?
22. R: I wanted to be like my other mates; they would get to steal these cool stuffs from supermarkets, and would get away with it without getting caught.
23. I: Ok, you wanted to be like your friends?
24. R: Not really, I wanted to prove to them that I was also capable of doing the same, you know.
25. I: so after the incident did you feel accepted or part of the group?
26. R: To some extent yeah, I felt accepted and showed that I wasn’t a coward
27. I: after being caught, why did you shoplift again?
28. R: because my peers called me novice, as I had only shoplifted once, and they were not even sure whether I was telling the truth. My buddies were telling me I should not call myself a shoplifter, you know, coz I had only done it once. Hell, they were not even sure whether I had actually done this. I was under a lot of pressure from my mates, and so I felt completed to act and try to appease them.
29. I: So did you accept to shoplift a second time
30. R: Yeah, I accepted and they accompanied me to a store. Around this time, I had also started experimenting with cigarettes and alcohol and so I felt the urge to shoplift these as well, given that no shopkeeper or bar tender would sell them to me on account of my age”.
31. I: what did you shoplift?
32. R: A certain sex magazine
33. I: why shoplift a sex magazine?
34. R: Because it was forbidden and my friends wanted one.
35. I: what other items did you and your peers shoplift?
36. R: we shoplifted items such as books, cigarettes, and condoms.
37. I: What is your social economic background like?
38. R: I am from a decent home, and my folks earn excess of £ 4000 per month.
39. I: So you’re not from a poor family?
40. R: Nope. My folks earn a decent income, so I never shoplifted due to lack of anything at home, far from it.
41. I: are your peers from poor families?
43. I: Then why did you shoplift?
44. R: The main reason why I shoplifted is to have a sense of belonging with my mates.
45. I: That’s too risky
46. R: It is a cool feeling knowing that you are likely to be caught stealing, and yet, there is an equal chance that you could get away with it, you know? It is a very gratifying thing to do.
47. I: So is shoplifting a just and a moral behaviour?
48. R: Yeah, because it makes me feel cool and accepted in my group.
49. I: Do you still shoplift?
50. R:I stopped after my parents got wind of my behaviour and threatened to have me taken into a juvenile detention and school.
51. I: I am glad you have transformed before it is too late
52. R: Me too
53. I: So don’t you miss your peers?
54. R: I do, but that was the best decision I have ever made, since most of my friends were taken to juvenile detention facilities.
55. I: Thank you very for your help and I wish you good luck with your education.
56. R: You are welcome.