Theft rings push shoplifting rates to 5-year high
By Oregon Small Business Association
Shoplifting appears to be a growing problem for America’s retailers, and thieves are growing in their sophistication. That’s according to the Retail Industry Leaders Association, a prominent industry trade group that recently released its annual report detailing the latest trends in retail industry related crime.
According to RILA’s report, individuals acting alone and organized crime rings are targeting retailers with growing frequency— up 41 percent and 60 percent, respectively, from last year.
Though not surprising, the increase in retail related crimes such as shoplifting and gift card fraud stands in sharp contrast to recent declines in violent crime statistics. Violent crimes dropped dramatically last year by 12 percent, a figure that has surprised many experts who predicted such crimes would only increase as the economy continued to struggle.
The most popular items lifted include computer books, televisions, iPods and other Apple products, and Blackberry devices. More run-of-the-mill products are also favorites, such as razors, shampoo, cigarettes, air fresheners, over-the-counter medications, and Crest white strips. These and other items increasingly appear in the online marketplace as thieves try to resell them for a profit. In fact, 61 percent of retailers saw an increase in the number of stolen goods making their way online.
Among other things, retailers say that organized theft rings are using increasingly sophisticated methods to ply their trade, including social networking sites, improved communication devices, and iPhone applications enabling instant upload to online sellers’ accounts.
Given persistently high unemployment and the sagging economy, however, the increase in shoplifting hasn’t caught most retailers off guard. And many stores have stepped up their efforts to prevent and pursue shoplifters. Those efforts include developing better partnerships with local law enforcement and other retailers. Stores have also devoted more resources to monitor social networking activity. The use of Facebook, for example, has been highly effective in tracking criminals, some of whom publicize exploits and give clues about their next move. Perhaps one of retailers’ best weapons against shoplifting is good old fashioned customer service. Eighty-five percent of retailers reported “customer service” to be an effective shoplifting deterrent.
Of particular concern to individual stores may be the increase (44 percent) of their own employees shoplifting or helping organized groups gain access to goods. Employers are more actively screening potential employees and building cultures of integrity through orientation and training programs. Interestingly, RILA’s report seems to indicate that the better retailers treat and pay their employees, the less likely employees will steal from them.
Honest consumers can help, too. While criminals increasingly rely on technology, most still use time tested methods such as lookouts, grab and exit, get-a-way cars, and multiple distractions to succeed—all of which alert shoppers can notice and report to the store manager.