Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Factors Contributing to Convenience Store Robbery

Understanding the factors that contribute to convenience store robbery will help you frame your own local analysis questions, determine good effectiveness measures, recognize key intervention points, and select appropriate responses.

Research has identified many factors that influence a robbery’s likelihood or outcome. In some cases, the findings are inconsistent or contradictory. This may be because it can be difficult to interpret studies based on small numbers of stores or difficult to determine if certain store features influenced the robberies, or were changed in response to the robberies.24 The factors generally found to contribute to the incidence of convenience store robberies follow.

Store Characteristics

Operation hours

Operation hours are by far the strongest factor contributing to convenience story robbery, particularly for stores open 24 hours a day.25 Late evening to early morning hours carry a greater risk of being targeted, perhaps because fewer people are about—other customers, police, or passersby—who might intervene.

Interior store layout

Several characteristics of a store’s interior layout can influence its vulnerability to a robbery. Common among these is visibility, from two perspectives. First, employees should be able to see their surroundings, and second, people outside the store, including police on patrol, should be able to see into the store.26 Robbers are deterred by brightly lit stores in which employees and the store’s cash registers are clearly visible from the street.27 The height and placement of store displays and shelving also determine whether there are unobstructed views inside the store.

Exterior store environment

Visibility is also a factor outside the store. Poorly lit gasoline islands and parking lots increase the chances of a robber’s selecting a particular store,28 since employees cannot see what is occurring outside the store. There is also a relationship between parking lot size and store vulnerability in that a large parking area in front of the store reduces the ability of passersby to provide informal surveillance of the store’s interior and exterior.29 The availability of viable escape routes is also a consideration in determining whether or not a store is a prime robbery target. For instance, poorly designed fencing or landscaping can facilitate a robber’s quick flight from the store, thereby making the store a more attractive target.

Location

There may be a relationship between the location and surrounding environment of a convenience store and its risk of becoming a robbery target. For instance, one study found that stores located in shopping complexes or strip malls had fewer robberies than those not in more concentrated commercial settings.30 A study of robberies at service stations and pharmacies produced similar findings.31 According to another study, stores in neighborhoods with older buildings and structures, close to graffiti and subsidized housing, and not located in a shopping center showed an increased risk of robbery.32

Convenience store type

Convenience stores can be distinguished from other retail establishments by the hours they operate, store size, and products sold. Most are open every day until late in the evening, with some open 24 hours a day. Some are corporate franchises, others are independently owned. Single-store businesses that are owned and operated as a one-store business or franchise dominate the market.33

There are generally six convenience store formats. Each is categorized by the size of the store and the products it sells, as shown in Table 1 below.34

Table 1: Convenience Store Types
Type Size Typical Products Parking

Kiosk

< 800 sq. ft.

Gasoline and “fast-moving” items (tobacco, beverages, snacks, and confectioneries)

Usually only at the pumps

Mini

800 to 1200 sq. ft.

Limited grocery selection (predominantly prepared sandwiches)

At the pumps and some with striped parking

Limited selection

1,500 to 2,200 sq. ft.

Broader product mix and added prepared foods (hot dogs, nachos, popcorn)

Striped parking (with extended hours)

Traditional

2,400 to 2,500 sq. ft.

Expanded product mix (including dairy, bakery, snack foods, and beverages)

Six to 12 parking spaces and pedestrian access

Expanded

2,800 to 3,600 sq. ft.

Traditional product mix

10 to 20 marked parking spaces

Hyper

4,000 to 5,000 sq. ft.

Can include a bakery, restaurant area, or a pharmacy

Multiple parking spaces (usually larger than the expanded store)

Risk of robbery based on a variety of administrative and environmental factors has been proposed. For instance, stores with gas pumps, sometimes referred to as convenience gas stations, are less likely to be robbed than stores without pumps.35 Another study has found that independent stores less than two years old were at higher risk for robbery than older stores that are company owned and operated.36

Ownership

The security and crime prevention measures convenience store owners employ vary considerably with the type and structure of ownership. 7-Eleven, Inc. has its own security department, policies, and employee crime-prevention training program.37 A “mom and pop” owned establishment would likely have very few resources and less access to current techniques.

Staff number

Several studies have evaluated the presence of two or more clerks to reduce the risk of robbery. The findings have been inconsistent, and are highly debated.38 The 1986 Gainesville, Fla., studies concluded that the number of clerks on duty was a strong predictor of robbery potential.39 However, a review of convenience store robberies by the National Association of Convenience Stores in 1997 did not support this conclusion.40

Cash-control procedures

The handling and storage of cash has a significant influence on the targeting of stores for robbery. The Athena Research Corp. studies of armed robbers in 1985 and 1995 have shown that “80 percent of potential robbers can be deterred if a convenience store limits the amount of money kept in its cash register.”41 There are a number of cash-control units available to retailers that have both a drop safe and money dispenser, with various access methods. Again, both the ability to purchase such units and the implementation of strict cash protocol depend on the ownership type and structure.

Cashier Cannot Access SafeA strict cash control protocol can significantly reduce the chances a store will be targeted by potential robbers.

Incident response policies

Employers’ policies, particularly about firearms in the workplace,† and various administrative and environmental measures† have an impact on workplace violence and homicide rates.42 Furthermore, the combination of inexperienced employees and inadequate training procedures can contribute to higher victimization rates.43 One multistate study found that clerks’ behavior might be the most significant factor in determining the extent of injuries during a robbery.44 For instance, injury can be caused by two different offender assaults: the blitz attack, which catches the victim by surprise and is unprovoked by the victim or another, and the response to perceived resistance, which can result from either misreading the employee’s nervousness as resistance, or wanting to get in and out of the store as quickly as possible.45 Employees can, in turn, employ certain behavior to keep themselves safe. This includes following the offender’s instructions, staying calm and quiet, avoiding eye contact, not making any sudden movements, remaining inside the workplace, not attacking the offender, while making mental notes to provide to the police regarding the offender’s physical description.46

† One study found that there was approximately a “sevenfold increase in the risk of a worker being killed in workplaces that allowed guns,” implying that workplaces that respond to a prior experience with crime by allowing firearms may actually be creating a greater risk for workplace homicide by allowing weapons on the premises (Loomis, Marshall, and Ta 2005).

†† Although some researchers believe that limiting cash on hand to less than $100 could reduce robbery risk and injury rates, other research has found that limiting cash and escape routes can force a robber to take greater risks, thereby potentially increasing employee injury rates. Other suggestions include installing a visible drop safe to allow for natural surveillance throughout the store (Faulkner, Landsittel, and Hendricks 2001).

Offender Characteristics

Like robbers in general, most convenience store robbers are male (95 percent) with about two-thirds of them under the age of 25.47 They are often impulsive and opportunistic, and do limited planning before attempting the actual robbery. Most are seeking quick cash, often to buy drugs. A high proportion report that they were under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs while committing the robbery.48

Serial robbers, particularly those that victimize the same location on more than one occasion, appear to be more professional, even determined, in their approach. They are significantly more likely to carry a gun, to have been in prison before, to wear a disguise, and to choose a specific time for the robbery. They are also more likely to be violent, and cause a higher rate of employee injury.49 Their robberies display distinct geographical patterns over time.50

Since it has been found that certain stores are more vulnerable to repeat victimization, we can conclude that robbers are selecting those stores because of the opportunities they offer for successful completion of a robbery.51 Offenders prefer areas in or near their neighborhoods, thus increasing the risk for those stores in areas where many offenders live.52 However, many factors may affect offender decisions. For example, since offenders commonly use guns in convenience store robberies, some offenders looking for quick cash may think that a weapon overcomes any other obstacles to carrying out the crime. Novice offenders might be less likely to differentiate between low-risk and high-risk targets.53 Robbers commonly consider escape routes an important factor in selecting a target. 54

Time Patterns

To limit the risk of apprehension, robbery offenders generally operate at night, when concealment is more likely. Convenience store robberies have been found to be consistent with this time pattern. One study of robberies in 30 Leon County, Fla., convenience stores over a four-year period found significant correlations not only to time but also to day of the week, and month. Fifty percent occurred between 10 p.m. and 12 a.m., generally times when business traffic is minimal. Three days (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) accounted for 60 percent of the robberies. More than 50 percent occurred between November and February, consistent with findings that property crimes occur more frequently during winter months.55