The young couple seemed keen on his products at first, but then they suddenly grew quiet.
Mr Muhammad Waseem Ahmed's shopkeeper instincts kicked in.
Suspecting something was amiss, he kept an eye on the woman, even as her male companion tried to lead him towards a blind spot in his perfume store.
He was right. He suspected she had stolen a bottle of perfume and confronted her.
The case was just one of many shoplifting cases in Orchard Road.
The number has gone up in the first three months of this year compared to the same period last year. (See report, above.)
Recalling his encounter with the couple early last month, Mr Waseem, who owns a perfume store at Lucky Plaza, said he became suspicious when he noticed that the boxes of perfume on the shelf where the woman was browsing earlier looked different from the way he usually arranged it.
"I know how I organise things on the shelves," said Mr Waseem, who is in his 40s.
Most of the time, he arranges the boxes of perfume in a straight line.
But the shelf that the woman was standing beside had a noticeable empty space and it was obvious that one of the front boxes had been removed.
Mr Waseem said he confronted the woman when she tried to leave. He and asked to see the contents of her bag.
He found a box of Calvin Klein perfume worth more than $100 that he sold in his shop and two he did not recognise.
The woman claimed she had bought the other two from another store in the building.
Unconvinced, Mr Waseem took back his box of perfume and called his friends who owned perfume stores in the building to check if they had sold her the other boxes.
By the time his friends contradicted her story, the woman was already out of the store, followed by her male companion.
"Don't touch me," the man said when Mr Waseem tried to hold him back, and the pair, who looked to be in their 20s, left in a hurry.
He said he did not chase them because he did not want to leave the shop unattended as it was quite late by then and most of the shopkeepers had left.
Since then, Mr Waseem has been looking into installing closed-circuit televisions (CCTVs).
The New Paper visited 31 shops along Orchard Road last Thursday.
A third said they had been victims of shoplifters.
In most cases, the shoplifters were young and worked in groups.
A shop attendant from a clothing store at Cathay Cineleisure Orchard described one such encounter earlier this month.
The shop attendant, who declined to be named, said that a group of three men in their 20s had entered the store at about 8pm.
One man approached him to reserve a pair of shoes while the other two loitered around the shop, trying on caps that were on display near the front of the store.
The shop attendant was distracted by another customer and had sent his store assistant to get shoes from the storeroom.
By the time he had finished attending to the customer, the three men had disappeared.
The shop attendant checked the store and found that one of the caps on display was missing.
He immediately checked the CCTV footage and saw one of the three men casually clipping the cap on his belt and walking out of the store.
Fortunately, he had taken down the contact details of the customer who had reserved shoes earlier and he rang him and threatened to call the police if his friend did not return the cap.
The shoplifter returned the cap within half an hour.
Mr Abdul Rahman, 51, who manages the 7-Eleven store at Far East Plaza, said the shoplifters he had encountered often stole soft drinks and food.
They were usually teenagers in groups of two and three and were sometimes drunk, he said.
The shoplifters would often get one person to buy a cheap item and distract the counter staff while the accomplice stole the goods.
Mr Rahman said it was hard to catch them. He said there are always discrepancies while checking the store's inventory and shoplifters tend to steal only a few items at a time.
Mr Waseem commented that the couple who had tried to steal from his shop had teamwork.
He also said regretfully that he is now more wary of customers as they might harbour ulterior motives.
He said: "They (shoplifters) are making everybody suffer."
SHOP THEFT IS SERIOUS OFFENCE
In a statement released last Wednesday, the police stressed that shop theft is a serious offence punishable with jail of up to seven years and a fine.
They also advised retailers to take the following measures against shop theft:
Display expensive items in locked display shelves accessible only by the staff.
If it is not feasible to lock these items, use empty boxes and cans instead of the real merchandise.
Enhance the store's security system by installing CCTV cameras and convex mirrors. Ensure that the CCTV cameras are in good working condition.
Use an electronic tagging system.
Display advisory signage or warnings against shop theft at prominent locations.
Advise all staff to be observant and vigilant.
This article was published on April 28 in The New Paper.
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