6 Types of Shoplifters

Shoplifting is a behavior that, besides being ethically questionable, doesn’t seem like a very good risk-reward trade-off. Naturally, when psychologists see people engaged in that kind of activity, they ask: why?

As it turns out, not everyone who shoplifts does so for the same reasons. A new study from researchers at University of Texas and University of California, San Francisco has identified six distinct groups of people who shoplift.

In the study, researchers asked people who had shoplifted multiple times in the past about their shoplifting motivations, attitudes, and behaviors, as well as their mental health more generally. Altogether, the researchers surveyed 202 serial shoplifters.

The people they surveyed tended to fall into one of six groups:

  • Loss-Reactive: A surprisingly high percentage of shoplifters (27 percent) appeared to be responding to loss. These people tended to be otherwise law-abiding citizens who had experienced a high level of loss and trauma in the past.
  • Impulsive: A fifth of the shoplifters surveyed tended to be high in impulsivity and high in antisocial tendencies. These people may be more likely to steal without planning when the opportunity arises, and to steal inexpensive items.
  • Depressive: The next most common profile (18 percent) was people who scored as having clinical depression. These people may shoplift to counter feelings of apathy or to otherwise cope with depressive symptoms.
  • Hobbyist: And then there are the people who shoplift apparently just for fun. Individuals in this group, 18 percent of the total, reported having good mental health and a high sense of enjoyment from shoplifting. Paradoxically, they had relatively traditional ethical values but were largely free from feelings of guilt.
  • Addictive-Compulsive: Maybe you’ve heard of compulsive shopping, but compulsive shoplifting is also a thing. These people (9 percent) got a “high” from shoplifting and found that high addictive.
  • Economically Disadvantaged: About 7 percent of the people surveyed were people with relatively low incomes who shoplifted primarily for economic reasons. These people tended to shoplift more often and to shoplift more expensive items. They were also more likely to use tools like special bags when shoplifting.

One thing to note about these results is that the percentages for each group aren’t necessarily representative of the general population as a whole. The people who responded to the survey were reasonably diverse (55 percent women, 77 percent white, 80 percent heterosexual), but not as diverse as the overall population of the United States. Still, this survey does give an overview of the different reasons people seem to shoplift, from depression to economic need to sheer enjoyment of the act.