The Five-Finger Discount

The larger the con, the larger the shoplifting problem. It’s not as bad in the artist alley as it is in the dealers’ room, fortunately. And you have to ask yourself how much effort you want to put into thwarting shoplifters and how much you want to put into selling enough to make up for the small shortfall you get from theft. The best way to thwart shoplifters is to be alert, make eye contact with everyone, and talk to them. With any luck the convention has security staff walking around looking conspicuous, which deters some theft. If you have a helper, two people can keep an eye out better than one.

When I worked the dealers’ room staff at a large convention, one of the most common shoplifting methods was for the thief to put the items they were carrying down on a table, on top of some merchandise. After they talked to the dealer or finished a minor transaction, they picked up their stuff, including the item underneath the stuff, and walked off. And at one convention, two shoplifters were busted after someone noticed that their cosplay was fake–they’d constructed large cloaks with broad shoulder guards, so that their entire bodies were covered. They’d sneak up to a busy table, grab something off of it, and hide it under their cloaks. So keep an eye out for those two scams.

You can also arrange your table to discourage shoplifting. Some artists put sample prints on the table in a bulky portfolio and keep the rest in file boxes behind the table. If you have small items like keychains and are worried about them walking off, consider building display boxes or boards for them and pinning samples down, with the rest of the items behind the table.

I haven’t experienced much theft and have never noticed anyone stealing anything off my table. I’ve had the occasional discrepancy in accounting at the end of the day that might mean one or two items walked off or just that I screwed up somewhere. It’s not yet enough of a problem for me to put too much effort into discouraging shoplifters. My prints are in portfolios, but I keep the copies for sale in the portfolios along with the display samples, and I have the comics and keychains out on the table where people can touch them because sales are better when people can get their hands on an item.

I am far more concerned with keeping my eye on the cash box than I am my merchandise. That would be a much bigger loss than a few prints or keychains.


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