Organized Retail Theft: Retailers Set Themselves Up for Failure

Organized retail theft is a regular news story if you follow current events especially local news. The videos of bold and brazen thieves stealing arm loads of merchandise off of store shelves and from behind counter tops are shocking, frustrating and bewildering. The media reports on organized retail thefts and public outrage follows. Social media comments from the law and order crowd demand more aggressive actions from police and civilians up to shooting a shoplifter to prevent theft. However, the retailers never make a public statement about organized retail theft.

I worked in retail for different companies between 1998 and 2015. All but one was a national retail chain. Their attitude towards shoplifting is to not resist the shoplifter. Retail employees are not supposed to verbally say anything to a person stealing, refuse service such as not accepting a return that was shoplifted and employees are certainly not supposed to physically apprehend a shoplifter, not that I think an employee should do that.

When I worked retail shoplifters would come in and return stolen merchandise for a store credit which they later sell. Shoplifters would bring in stacks of perfectly folded sweaters in a variety of sizes with no receipt and not in a shopping bag from the store. We were directed to politely process the return and give the “customer” their gift card. This was around 2008.

Since I last worked for a retail chain websites such as Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist and Amazon have gained popularity. I’m sure that those sites are what drive organized retail theft. I’m sure retail executives didn’t see that coming even though they should have. But they shouldn’t have been so lax about shoplifting even when items were being stolen to be returned for gift cards to sell or to be sold at flea markets. Retail executives didn’t care and concerns about shoplifting weren’t worth their time. I don’t think their position on the matter has really changed.

Large retailers have made statements about how much is stolen from their stores. However, shrink which means unaccounted for merchandise and money is a part of store metrics by which managers are evaluated. There is a percentage that is acceptable and it’s exceptional and close to impossible to have zero shrink.

Retailers are threatening to close locations due to excessive shoplifting. I can understand closing a low performing store however, I find it a bit suspicious that stores in urban, low income locations are the stores that are under threat of closing. Are those stores honestly the only ones with a problem with shrink and shoplifting? I doubt it. They are also threatening to raise prices in order to cover shrink but they haven’t said what they plan to do to prevent loss.

Retailers and shopping centers had a problem with shoplifting years ago and chose to do nothing about it. It wasn’t worth their time and investment to try and decrease theft. They it made better business sense to absorb the loss. Thieves were emboldened by the indifference from retailers. Now internet web sites facilitate organized retail crime and it has gotten out of control. It’s the retailers fault! I’m not even sure that they care about the theft now. I think all the videos of retail theft are going to be used as excuses for raising prices.

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