Who can retailers trust in their aisles?

Articles
December 30, 2008

Who can retailers trust in their aisles?

Temptation always beckons, it seems, or we’d have less need for a criminal justice system. Retailers have been intent on stemming the toll of organized shoplifting rings that swoop in with ‘shopping’ lists and redistribute stolen goods to flea markets, eBay and other outlets. Chains know and target these asset-robbers aggressively. Also posing risk of devastating losses—as if retailers don’t have enough challenges these days—are individuals driven to steal by their economic distress. Shoplifting arrests are way up this year, by 10% to 20%, police departments around the United States told The New York Times recently, which concluded the problem may be even more acute, since “shoplifters are often banned from stores rather than arrested.” Easing the path to thievery is Internet technology (for receipt and price-tag fraud and resale of stolen goods), an influx of seasonal workers who may not be well-vetted themselves or well-trained to detect shoplifting, and stores’ own hesitancy to stop suspicious people in their aisles. The tough economy adds to a dicey mix that makes even first-time offenders think they can dodge security—and they might for awhile. Among shoplifter tactics: bags lined with foil to avoid triggering store entrance/exit alarms, coordinated teams, runners, and fake documentation obtained online.

Temptation always beckons, it seems, or we’d have less need for a criminal justice system. Retailers have been intent on stemming the toll of organized shoplifting rings that swoop in with ‘shopping’ lists and redistribute stolen goods to flea markets, eBay and other outlets. Chains know and target these asset-robbers aggressively.

Also posing risk of devastating losses—as if retailers don’t have enough challenges these days—are individuals driven to steal by their economic distress. Shoplifting arrests are way up this year, by 10% to 20%, police departments around the United States told The New York Times recently, which concluded the problem may be even more acute, since “shoplifters are often banned from stores rather than arrested.”

Easing the path to thievery is Internet technology (for receipt and price-tag fraud and resale of stolen goods), an influx of seasonal workers who may not be well-vetted themselves or well-trained to detect shoplifting, and stores’ own hesitancy to stop suspicious people in their aisles.

The tough economy adds to a dicey mix that makes even first-time offenders think they can dodge security—and they might for awhile. Among shoplifter tactics: bags lined with foil to avoid triggering store entrance/exit alarms, coordinated teams, runners, and fake documentation obtained online.

The problem is massive and increasingly unaffordable for chains to tolerate. People steal more than $35 million of merchandise every day, and about one person in 11 in the U.S. has shoplifted, the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention told the Times.

These figures are bound to be higher once recession statistics are calculated. The toll on stores, on honest customers who pay higher prices to offset these losses, on manufacturers who may be asked to kick in, and even the social/emotional cost on the perpetrators who feel they have little choice left, will be great.

Naturally, defenses must come first, along with higher police priority and better coordination between retailers and law enforcement agencies, believes SupermarketGuru.com. It would also be a benevolent gesture if, at the same time, authorities could discriminate between criminally minded perpetrators and first-timers who made a mistake in a difficult time, and treat them accordingly.