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The prevention of shoplifting in eighteenth‐century London

Shelley Tickell (University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield, UK)

Journal of Historical Research in Marketing

ISSN: 1755-750X

Article publication date: 10 August 2010




The purpose of this paper is to explore eighteenth‐century London retailers' attitudes to shoplifting and their strategies for countering customer theft.


The paper is based on an examination of contemporary documentary evidence, in particular a quantitative and qualitative analysis of shopkeeper practice drawn from trial transcripts of shoplifting prosecutions at London's highest criminal court, the Old Bailey.


The paper reveals that shopkeepers predominantly invested in preventative measures to control customer theft, rather than relying on prosecution. It demonstrates that improved shop fittings and new marketing methods served to reinforce the effectiveness of this strategy. The techniques that retailers employed are shown to directly reflect the nature and location of the risks they experienced, even to the extent of being a contributory factor in the withdrawal of women from the retail sector during this period.

Research limitations/implications

The study is limited to a sample of London trials and the experiences of retailers who prosecuted.


This is the first study of shoplifting prevention in this period. It analyses retailer practice and illustrates how this interacted with their perception of the prevalence of criminality, demonstrating that their approach to stock protection anticipated that of modern retailers. It complements existing scholarship on eighteenth‐century retailing and marketing.



Tickell, S. (2010), "The prevention of shoplifting in eighteenth‐century London", Journal of Historical Research in Marketing, Vol. 2 No. 3, pp. 300-313.



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Copyright © 2010, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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