Stores will be decked with more than holly this holiday shopping season. Video surveillence cameras will be strewn more liberally than mistletoe, items will be hung with electronic tags and store detectives will be as numerous and nimble as as Santa's helpers.

"Retailers nationwide are taking much more action to address the problem of theft, because they are really feeling the big squeeze," says loss-prevention specialist Read Hayes.

Squeezing them hard are shoplifters who use an array of ruses to steal everything from candybars to computers. They wear baggy pants and coats with concealed pockets carry large bags or purses, or props such as newspapers, strollers and umbrellas that can easily conceal merchandise.

Professional shoplifters often resort to more elaborate devices to make a quick steal. Popular tools include the belly booster, a hollow fiberglass form that can be strapped to the stomach to make a woman look pregnant and is then filled with stolen goods, or the booster box, an empty container that looks like a gift-wrapped package. When the shoplifter sets the box down on an item, flaps open and close around the item, covertly picking it up. Other thieves perfer the time-honored squat-and-clinch method, making for the door with short, mincing steps-and the merchandise clamped between the thighs and knees.

Retailers are matching this shop-lifting ingenuity withs lots of high-tech gadgetry, including live close circuit TV and increasingly popular Electronic Article Surveillance (EAS) tags that trip an alarm at the door. While installing an EAS system can cost anywhere from $7,000 to $100,000, depending on the size of the store, many retailers report a 70 percent return on their investment within just a few years, says Hayes.

At Farm and Fleet, a Wisconsin-based discount merchandise chain in the Midwest, company officals installed the EAS system in the thirteen of their stores this year. So far, the results have been impressive: One store that had reported only two shoplifting arrests last year had twenty-five apprehensions in the first three months after installing EAS.

But it is as a deterrent that EAS really shines. Hayes cites a recent study in England that found the electronic tags were a far more effective way to prevent shoplifting that uniformed gaurds or redesigning store interiors for greater security.

"Shoplifters know what an EAS system is, and they try to avoid them," says Gary Hilt, a vice president of loss preventionfor Blain's Supply Inc., which provides security for Farm & Fleet stores.

But while gadgetry has its place, for many retailers the best insurance against shoplfting is still an alert sales force. "Meeting and greeting each customer is great deterrent," says Glen Davis, president and CEO of the Arizona-based retail-security firm Securro, Inc. "The shoplifter is told in a subliminal way, 'Hey, we realize you're here.' People on the threshold of theft may stop when they realize they aren't quite anonymous as they thought they were."

From Journal magazine, December 1996

Phrodo says: "The booster box sounds like a good idea. I am now designing one. Check back later for a diagram of how to make your own."