6 things to know about retail theft

A baseline for combating organized retail crime

Retailers continue to see daily incidents of merchandise swept away by groups of thieves and are doing everything they can to provide a safe and secure shopping and working environment.

Let’s look at some of the facts around retail theft and organized retail crime.

Retail theft is a problem

A daily review of national and local news highlights that shoplifting and retail theft are at an epidemic level. Shoplifting is no longer an invisible act of concealing merchandise — brazen scofflaws are openly stealing from national retailers and local businesses. Retailers are even closing their doors due to theft. These criminal acts are beyond a by-product of a challenging economy, mental health concerns or an opioid problem; the frequency, scale and number of people stealing tells a different story.


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Stolen items are not for personal use

Shoplifting to resell stolen merchandise is part of the organized retail crime enterprise. People who shoplift for personal use steal specific items and quantities to meet their need. When a shoplifter walks out with $20,000 in beauty care products or power tools, it's not for personal need. Shoplifters might be stealing for financial need or to feed an addiction, but they are selling the products for drugs or cash to a fencing operation, pawn shop or other illicit businesses.

Widespread retail theft impacts the customer experience

Shoppers expect merchandise to be in stock and readily available for purchase. When items are unavailable for purchase, or a customer must summon and wait for an associate to unlock a product that costs less than $20, frustration mounts and consumers lose confidence in their local retailers. Store closings due to theft inconvenience shoppers who must travel farther for everyday needs.

Communities must respond to the issue

Public leaders feel the pressure, and some states have begun to re-structure or enact new laws or create task forces to go after these criminal groups. Communities that bury their heads in the sand will eventually recognize far greater issues. It’s hard to say a problem doesn’t exist when communities hold press conferences to reassure citizens that it remains safe to shop in local stores.

Retailers understand the impact across their business

Retail executives, asset protection personnel and store associates fully recognize the impact retail theft has on their business, the consumer and the industry.

Ask a store employee why certain items are locked up and you will hear story after story about thefts. Ask how open and brazen shoplifting has become, and the scenarios sound like an apocalyptic movie.

Safety remains a main concern. Although not with every shoplifting event, violence continues to increase. No other business or industry would expose their employees to criminal behavior or potential violence — why should retail?

Retailers have the data to support this issue. Although they vary in their ability to investigate, report or record data, most retailers are fully aware of the frequency and scope of incidents, the financial losses and the costs associated with protecting against theft. What is lacking is a centralized, systematic means of reporting, collecting and documenting the issue across the industry. Community and national crime data is even lacking in its capability to determine the issues due to deficiencies in reporting data and proper categorization of crimes.

It will take a “whole community” approach to resolve

This is not a retail-only problem. Curbing retail theft is a national problem that requires actions from various stakeholders. Retailers must continue working with law enforcement and communities to provide data, report incidents and work locally and nationally to support investigations. Law enforcement must partner across communities, along with the retail industry, to focus on disrupting those coordinating and leading these organized enterprises.

Returns in retail

Learn more about returns in the retail industry and how they are changing over time.

States need to review current laws, amending or creating news laws that focus on changing criminal activity. Prosecutors need to treat habitual shoplifters as criminals and bring proper charges to those involved in the planning, organizing and operating of criminal enterprises.

Passing the Combating Organized Retail Crime Act of 2023, which sits in both the Senate and the House, will bring national recognition of the problem with federal agency and prosecutorial resources to support local and state law enforcement efforts.

Perhaps with a collective understanding of some facts, we can begin to move toward a collaborative solution.

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