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How shoplifting is forcing retailers to dramatically change

Shoplifting is altering retail’s trajectory – common items like toothpaste, dish soap, makeup, eye drops, canned tuna, and laundry detergent are now behind lock and key in many locations – what’s next?

shoplifting is altering retail's trajectory

More stores are using anti-theft items, even for seemingly small items, such as toothpaste, Dawn dishwashing liquid, Spam, and even canned tuna.

It’s inconvenient for customers and store employees, but stores are needing to protect their inventory amid inflation.

Instead of removing products to reduce “shrink,” as loss of inventory is often referred to in the retail industry, stores are locking products up to prevent shoplifting.

Unfortunately, shoppers are often frustrated with having to wait to get products. Anti-theft devices reduce shoplifting, but they also can result in a 15% to 25% reduction in sales from impatient customers.

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Even Starbucks is feeling the crime problem, as it just closed 16 stores to protect its employees and customers. 

How big is the shoplifting problem?  

According to the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention (NASP), stores lose more than $45 million per day due to shoplifting. It’s estimated that shoplifting results in about $50 billion in retail crimes.

Don’t think that this is a retail problem alone. Sure, the store’s a victim, but shoplifting has a huge impact on communities. 

  • Consumers pay more to cover losses. 
  • Cities and states lose tax dollars. 
  • Shoplifting adds to the burden of police and courts. NASP estimates that it costs taxpayers $2,000 or more per offender when they enter the criminal justice system. 
  • The added burden of taking care of children whose parents are arrested. No one wins.

There are people who of course are stealing bread to feed their families, but given that bread isn’t what’s under lock and key, it is worth noting that retailers aren’t having to adjust to understandable life challenges, rather bulk shoplifting.

To illustrate how widespread the issue is, there are hundreds of blog posts, TikTok posts, and so forth, about “companies you should shoplift from” with instructions of what to hit, how, and why those companies deserve it. We won’t link to it here, you have Google.

How can we respond to the problem of shoplifting? 

There’s a growing movement to ignore certain shoplifting crimes of formula, soap, and laundry detergent, all products that people in need require to survive and often can’t afford.

The problem with that is not all shoplifters are impoverished, there are actually growing organized shoplifting rings, especially in larger cities.

They are often stealing items from stores to resale on Amazon or Ebay.

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According to an article on Oprah.com, some shoplifters often steal to get a “high” or out of a psychological need, AKA kleptomania. It’s often joked about, but people forget about the impact of shoplifting. 

Many stores have policies that prevent employees from confronting shoplifters, but stores do still prosecute shoplifters. And retail workers are increasingly feeling unsafe, worried about being attacked physically by shoplifters, even if they don’t fight back.

Some states have raised the threshold to prosecute criminal shoplifters.

As courts are still backlogged from COVID closures, shoplifters who steal retail items with less than $500 value may never see the inside of a criminal court.

Stores, too, are overloaded with other problems and do not always have time to prosecute shoplifters.

The NASP has an education program for adults who don’t understand why they shoplift and may be facing criminal charges. Studies show that this program does work, with a national average 2.9% recidivism rate.  

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Could the shopping industry be forced into changing? 

COVID changed the retail model. More stores are offering shopping and delivery services.

Shoplifting could be another impetus to change how stores do business.

There may be an evolution of security devices that use loyalty cards or phone numbers to unlock the device, reducing the need to find an employee. Retailers may also move to Amazon Go’s method of ringing items up automatically in your app as you lift them from the shelf and removing them as you set them back down.

It will be interesting to watch how the industry adapts. 

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Dawn Brotherton is a Sr. Staff Writer at The American Genius with an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Central Oklahoma. She is an experienced business writer with over 10 years of experience in SEO and content creation. Since 2017, she has earned $60K+ in grant writing for a local community center, which assists disadvantaged adults in the area.

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