Increase in Shoplifting

In our Fall 2010 issue (Vol. 25, No. 4) we provided statistics on our 22nd Annual Retail Theft Survey which reported on over 1 million apprehensions taking place in just 25 large U.S. retail companies representing 18,906 stores with combined 2009 annual sales in excess of $600 billion.  These 25 retail companies lost over $6.0 billion to shoplifting and employee theft in 2009, with only 3.15 percent of those losses resulting in a recovery.  This means that for every one dollar recovered, another $31.75 was lost to retail theft.

For the 4th straight year, both the number of shoplifters apprehended and the dollars recovered from those apprehensions increased.   These results continue to indicate that shoplifting is a serious issue for many retailers.  Survey results were as follows:

  • Survey participants apprehended 1,014,817 shoplifters in 2009, which was a substantial 16.8% increase over their 2008 shoplifter apprehensions of 868,858.
  • Dollars recovered from those shoplifters apprehended totaled $111,776,369 in 2009, an increase of 1.0% from their recovery dollars in 2008.
  • The average shoplifting case was $110.14 in 2009, down 13.5% from the 2008 case average of $127.37.
  • The dollars recovered from shoplifters where no apprehension was made ($29,266,930, up 19.3%), increased for the 13th consecutive year.

The severity of shoplifting can best be highlighted by the fact that during just the past four (4) years, our survey participants have reported apprehending a total of 2,936,919 shoplifters!  Shoplifting recovery dollars for that same four year period exceeded $367 million.

So why did shoplifting  apprehensions and recovery dollars increase in 2009?
We posed this question to our survey participants and they responded with the following five (5) points.

  • Struggling/weak economy caused more shoplifting to take place. (With loss of jobs, more people turned to shoplifting to obtain the items they needed or wanted.)
  • Fewer employees on the sales floor.  (Less staff/employees on the sales floor to deter shoplifting, resulted in more shoplifting taking place and more apprehensions being made.)
  • Organized Retail Crime (ORC) activity continues to increase. (This growing problem of organized shoplifting is resulting in more shoplifting activity and apprehensions)
  • LP personnel focusing on high loss areas and merchandise. (More attention was focused by LP personnel on high loss areas resulting in more apprehensions.)
  • Reduced social stigma of shoplifting. (With shoplifting apprehensions reported daily in the news by high profile people (clergy, actors/actresses, sports figures, politicians, etc.) the social stigma of this crime is lessening.)

Why is shoplifting such a problem? We believe the following contributes to the increased shoplifting activity/ problem:

Stolen Merchandise is Easier to Sell. Many thieves have found that selling their stolen items through various online auction/selling sites results in quicker sales and much higher prices than traditional selling of items on the street or at a local flee market. This easy access to a much larger audience has resulted in shoplifting becoming a highly popular way to quickly obtain cash.

Reduced Sales floor Coverage / Customer Service.  Less employees on the sales floor servicing customers, creates greater opportunities for thieves to steal.

Organized Retail Theft is Increasing.  Losses from Organized Retail Theft are reported to be over $30 billion annually, triple what they were just 10 years ago. These thieves work in team often using distraction to commit their theft of items such as over-the-counter medicines; razors; baby formula; stop smoking products; batteries, CDs & DVD; tools and designer clothes.

Increase in Fraudulent Returns / Refunds. Losses from fraudulent returns are estimated at $16 billion a year. Thieves create fraudulent receipts with desktop publishing software and color printers, and then return stolen items to the store for their full retail value.

Reduced Social Stigma & “Low Risk / Non-Offensive” Crime.  While the amateur shoplifter is finding the social stigma of shoplifting to be lessening, many professional and hardcore thieves find shoplifting is both highly profitable and a low jail-risk endeavor. Shoplifters know that violent crimes can draw jail time, while the prosecution of non-violent crimes such as shoplifting is not always encouraged by law enforcement, and therefore seldom results in jail time.

Is Shoplifting a ‘Victimless Crime’?
Absolutely not! While no one knows the actual negative impact that shoplifting has on the economy and general public, all evidence indicates that this crime is much more serious than many believe! Based on retail industry data analyzes and extensive research over the past two decades it appears that this crime has steadily grown to the point that we now estimate that 550,000 to 730,000 shoplifting incidents occur every day  within the United States. Furthermore, we conservatively estimate the take for this group of thieves is between $27 million and $37 million every day!

Shoplifting is big business that is costing both the retailer and the general public plenty! Stores suffer as result of lost sales and profits; employees lose their jobs as result of cutbacks in staff and layoffs brought about by those lost sales/profits; consumers are penalized by higher retail prices; and the general public pays through increased taxes incurred as result of lost sales tax revenue on merchandise than was stolen. Furthermore, shoplifting also has a violent side! Today it is not uncommon to find news accounts of serious injury, or even death, happening to both store personnel and customers in those instances where suspected shoplifters violently resist being apprehended.

In summary, all indicators point to shoplifting as continuing to have a negative effect on many retailers’ bottom-line profits. When addressing the issue of shoplifting, prevention is the key – and that starts with providing great customer service! Most shoplifters want and need privacy to commit their acts of theft; take it away from them with good customer service. Ensure technology (EAS, CCTV, merchandise alarms) is being used in high shoplifter risk stores/ departments. Also consider product tie-downs; limit quantity of high value/highly shoplifted items on the sales floor; and ensure employees have clear sight lines to highly popular items. After that, ensure employees are adequately trained in shoplifting prevention because it takes a “team effort” to prevent shoplifting. $

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