Jail cells could be set up in high streets and shopping centres to detain suspects for short periods, under Home Office plans to increase police powers.
Short term jails could be created in shopping centres
At present suspects must be taken to a police station.
Officers could also be given greater powers to take fingerprint or DNA evidence from anyone they suspect of committing an offence.
Civil rights campaigners said the ideas replaced the best traditions of English law with a presumption of guilt.
Responding to newspaper headlines about "Tesco jails", a spokesman for the supermarket said it already used security guards and CCTV to cut down on theft and was not considering the use of cells in its stores.
"It's nonsense to suggest that there are going to be any Tesco jails," said the spokesman.
Asda said that under its "zero tolerance" approach towards shoplifters and thieves, offenders could be stopped by security guards or identified at a later date from CCTV footage.
The British Retail Consortium said: "Where there is additional space in shopping centres and where shops are willing to work with the police, it's a positive move towards tackling the 10 million or so shoplifting offences each year."
Under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, if a suspect refuses to give their name, they must be taken to a police station to be interviewed.
But a Home Office consultation document, Modernising Police Powers, argues that this wastes time and takes officers off the streets.
To speed up the process, the document suggests creating a network of "short-term holding facilities" in shopping centres and town centres to hold suspects for up to four hours.
The plan is aims to help the police deal more quickly with petty offenders like shoplifters.
"Persons would be subject to detention to a maximum period of four hours to enable fingerprinting, photographing and DNA sampling.
"The aim would be to locate the short-term holding facility in busy areas to allow quick access and processing of suspects to enable the officer to resume operational duties as quickly as possible," the document says.
The Selfridges store, in Oxford Street, London, said it had had discussions with the Metropolitan Police about "retail jails" but had "no update at this time".
The consultation document also contains proposals to allow the police to take fingerprint and DNA evidence from people accused of crimes which do not carry a prison sentence.
At present these kind of samples can only be taken when the crime carries a prison term.
The civil rights group Liberty accused the government of replacing the best traditions of English law with "a chilling presumption of guilt".