Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Robbery of Convenience Stores

Guide No. 49 (2007)

by Alicia Altizio & Diana York

The Problem of Robbery of Convenience Stores

What This Guide Does and Does Not Cover

This guide begins by describing the problem of convenience store robbery and reviewing factors that increase its risk. It then identifies a series of questions to help you analyze your local convenience store robbery problem. Finally, it reviews responses to the problem and what is known about these from evaluative research and police practice.

Convenience store robbery is but one aspect of the larger set of problems related to robbery and to commercial establishments. Although all robbery types share some common features, convenience store robbery warrants special attention because convenience stores have special characteristics. Related problems not directly addressed in this guide, each requiring separate analysis, include

Some of these related problems are covered in other guides in this series, all of which are listed at the end of this guide. For the most up-to-date listing of current and future guides, see www.popcenter.org

General Description of the Problem

About Convenience Stores

Convenience stores are “retail business[es] with primary emphasis placed on providing the public a convenient location to quickly purchase from a wide array of consumable products (predominantly food and gasoline) and services.”1 There are over 135,000 convenience stores operating in the United States, and the number continues to grow.† An estimated 100 million Americans visit a convenience store on any given day; each convenience store might serve hundreds, even thousands, of customers daily.2 Over 80 percent of all Americans, because of their busy schedules, prefer convenience stores to supermarkets.3

† The Middle Atlantic States (New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania) led the increase in number of stores (9.8 percent from the previous year), although all U.S. regions experienced an increase within the past year (National Association of Convenience Stores 2005).

Extent of the Problem

Convenience store robberies account for approximately 6 percent of all robberies known to the police.4 Although this comprises a relatively small percentage of total robberies, the problem is persistent. Over the last 30 years, there has been little change in the proportion of convenience store robberies. Nevertheless, convenience stores in particular locations can be vulnerable to repeat victimization, especially those types of retailers that have large amounts of cash, low security, and few staff and customers likely to resist.5

The numbers of U.S. convenience store robberies rose significantly in the 1980s and then declined just as significantly in the 1990s, a reduction that could be due in part to the development of better crime prevention measures in convenience stores,6 many of which are discussed in the Responses section below.

Repeat Victimization†

† See Problem-Solving Tools Guide No. 4, Analyzing Repeat Victimization.

Some stores are repeatedly victimized, either by the same offender or different offenders. Reasons for repeat victimization vary. A successful robber might return to rob the same store again or might tell other robbers about the store. Alternatively, a wide range of robbers might see the store as particularly attractive or vulnerable.† Media accounts may actually play up the vulnerability of the store by reporting successful robberies7 and may glamorize the crime, giving would-be offenders the notion that those that “rob with style” don’t get caught.8

† See the Problem-Solving Tools Guide on Understanding Risky Facilities for further discussion of why some places are more vulnerable to crime than other similar places.

Interviews with convicted robbers revealed that they often selected easy targets assuming that “victims [businesses] will not install preventative measures to stop them.”9 One study of convenience store robbery victims indicates that more than one-half of the respondents reported subsequent changes in store policy or practice after a robbery.10 It was also found that a store was most vulnerable to revictimization within the first few weeks after the first robbery.11

Types of Convenience Store Robbery

Convenience store robberies are classified according to the offender’s method of operation:12

  • Straight: Demanding money immediately upon entering a store.
  • Customer: Demanding money some time after entering a store and engaging in the act of making a purchase.

Another perhaps less common type is merchandise robbery,† which involves the forcible taking of goods from a store. A higher number of employee injuries are reported in merchandise robberies, as active resistance and confrontation are more prevalent in these situations.13

† One study by the Ontario Convenience Store Association found that an increase in merchandise robberies at convenience stores between 2001 and 2002 was related to higher cigarette prices, the existence of illicit markets, and the ease of disposal (Inkster Group 2004 [PDF]).

Harms Resulting From Convenience Store Robbery

Physical

Convenience store employees suffer from high rates of workplace homicide, second only to taxicab drivers.† , 14 Customers can also suffer injury from offender assaults. Injuries can result from an employee’s active resistance or from the offender ’s misreading the employee’s nervousness or hesitation as resistance.15 When faced with an employee who chooses to actively resist and is in a face-to-face confrontation, robbers may resort to injuring the worker to avoid apprehension. Higher injury rates are consistently found to be correlated with measures employees take during the robbery.16

† See the Problem-Oriented Policing Guide, Robbery of Taxi Drivers.

Economic

Convenience store robberies are not only costly to the workers victimized but also to the store itself. Costs include loss of customers who may be deterred from shopping at a store that has been robbed, leading to a loss of income from reduced customer sales. Stores can also experience an increase in workers’ compensation costs and insurance premiums due to the robbery. Unfortunately, for those independently owned stores, losses may be unrecoverable, due to the inability of many small operations to afford insurance coverage.17 Stores that do not have insurance coverage may be forced to increase prices or potentially close. Other less direct costs include the various criminal justice activities of state and local governments, including police investigations, prosecutions, and incarceration and supervision of offenders.18

The average cost to employers of a single episode of workplace violence can amount to $250,000 in lost work time and legal expenses.19 Workplace victimizations reportedly contribute to a loss of 3.5 days per employee per crime. Victimization can further limit the ability of these stores to attract and maintain employees for the night shifts, particularly in stores that operate 24 hours a day20 and those with a high volume of cash transactions, a characteristic of such stores. The combination of operational expenses and security challenges can be financially burdensome.21

Psychological

Victim employees can also suffer psychological harm.22 “Secondary victimization ” can occur when employers, managers, employees, or those responding to the robbery fail to acknowledge the victim’s trauma.23 This may result from not believing the victim’s description of the attack, discounting the incident, and blaming or criticizing the victim. Psychological problems resulting from victimization may not only affect the employee’s subsequent workplace performance, but also can affect the store’s daily operations.†

† Most victims’ organizations agree that immediate intervention and support after a victim endures a robbery is beneficial to the victim’s recovery, yet statistics show that of the 86,000 robbery victims (irrespective of location of victimization) in 1991, only 4 percent of the reported robbery victims were treated by mental health care providers (National Center for Victims of Crime 1997).