Store Detective

The Job and What's Involved

Store detectives aim to prevent and detect loss in retail stores. This includes theft from the shop by members of the public and losses from the organisation by members of staff. They work as members of the loss prevention team putting in place systems and checks to protect the organisation.

They wear plain clothes unlike retail security officers who wear uniforms.

A store detective's job may include:

  • Patrolling stores looking like an ordinary shopper, looking out for shoplifters.
  • Discreetly following any shopper behaving suspiciously or who they recognise as a previous thief.
  • Keeping notes of observations.
  • Arresting any suspects.
  • Dealing with customers suspected of credit card theft or fraud.
  • Calling the police, describing observations and attending while a suspect is being questioned.
  • Taking evidence from witnesses.
  • Writing a general report on an incident.
  • Giving evidence in court and undergoing questioning and cross-examination.

They may also help to cope with unrelated emergencies such as a customer who has been taken ill, an accident on the escalators or a fire or bomb alert. Sometimes they have to check on the security of goods being delivered to the store.

As part of a store detective's work involves making checks on colleagues also working in the store, it is important to be able to deal fairly with all colleagues within the organisation at whatever level. Loss prevention staff may be expected not to have close friendships with colleagues in order to stay impartial while making security checks.

Detectives use various forms of technology such as:

- Closed circuit television (CCTV) for surveillance
- Two-way radio, for speedy communication with colleagues
- Alarms
- Mirrors
- Electronic security tags on goods

Store detectives work while the shop is open, normally for around 40 hours a week on a shift pattern which can include weekends and evenings, and nights in shops that have 24 hour opening. There are usually plenty of opportunities for overtime.

Some store detectives are on call for emergencies.

The work is generally inside shops, so it is warm and comfortable, but it does involve a lot of standing, walking and potential conflict situations.

Starting salaries for store detectives may be up to £15,000 a year. Many store detectives earn extra money by working overtime.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Store detectives are needed in all kinds of large stores, such as supermarkets, clothes shops, DIY stores and department stores. This means there are jobs all over the UK, mainly in towns and cities. Temporary seasonal work may be available.

Security companies are very careful about who they employ and will check individuals' personal and work history for up to ten years. Applicants will undergo a Criminal Records Bureau check.

Store detectives are usually employed by the retail organisation itself, or they may work for a security company who has the contract for providing security for a particular retail chain. Others may be self-employed or work through an agency and move around from store to store.

It is important to look for a reputable security company, which will give training and reasonable pay and conditions. Many contract security companies are registered with the British Security Industry Association (BSIA).

Along with other members of the security industry, store detectives who are self-employed or work for an agency or under contract have to be licensed by the Security Industry Authority (SIA) (from November 2007 in Scotland). This process involves identity verification, a Criminal Records Bureau check, attending a training course and achieving a formal examination-based qualification.

Education and Training

There are no set qualifications, but candidates must have a good standard of spoken and written English. It is important to have a mature attitude in order to carry out the sensitive parts of the job. Most entrants will have done some other work before they become store detectives. Relevant experience would include working for the police or Armed Forces or other security or retail work.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Employers normally give training to new store detectives. This may consist of courses or on-the-job training with experienced detectives. Trainees have to learn the principles of investigation, the relevant criminal law, offences and procedures and citizens' rights as well as meeting the licensing requirements of the SIA where relevant.

Store detectives need highly specialised training to work in often extremely sensitive situations.

Store detectives can work towards NVQ Level 2 in Providing Security Services by taking specialised units in retail security. This covers topics such as loss prevention, customer care, defusing aggression, observational techniques and vigilance, dealing with emergencies, the law, making an arrest, recognising suspicious behaviour, electronic equipment, and offences involving credit, cheque guarantee and other cards.

There are also distance learning courses in security offered by the International Institute of Security, the International Professional Security Association and other organisations.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Store detectives need to be:

  • Mature and responsible.
  • Honest.
  • Highly observant.
  • Good at communicating and dealing with people.
  • Able to handle sensitive situations.
  • Able to use their initiative and make quick decisions.
  • Polite and helpful.
  • Physically fit and healthy.
  • Able to write short reports.
  • Able to deal with modern surveillance systems such as CCTV and security tags.
  • Confident to challenge or tackle people when necessary.

Your Long Term Prospects

Experienced store detectives may be promoted to more senior jobs, such as supervisor, and could possibly become a security manager or loss prevention manager.

Get Further Information

British Security Industry Association (BSIA),
Kirkham House, John Comyn Drive,
Worcester WR3 7NS
Tel: 0845 389 3889

International Professional Security Association (IPSA),
Northumberland House, 11 The Pavement,
Popes Lane, Ealing, London W5 4NG
Tel: 020 8832 7417

Security Industry Authority (SIA),
PO Box 74957, London E14 1UG
Tel: 0844 892 1025

Skills for Security, Anbrian House (First Floor),
1 The Tything, Worcester WR1 1HD
Tel: 01905 744000

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