Retail theft has always been a problem for shopkeepers, even if it’s just a young kid stealing candy on a dare.  We take it personally, because it’s our hard-earned money disappearing out the door. There is a real sense of violation that comes every time you discover that someone has shoplifted from your store.  Unfortunately,  according to a recent National Retail Federation study,  “participating retailers said the pandemic resulted in an increase in overall risk to their organizations.” 

The report goes on to say “One potential driver behind the increases in robberies and shoplifting incidences is the growth in organized retail crime (ORC) reported by retailers. Last holiday season we read frightening stories of “flash mob” thefts that are large scale smash and grab thefts involving up to several dozen people.  

According theThe Washington Post, “Retail executives and security experts say the rise of such robberies — which have gone viral online and in some cases, spurred copycats — is the culmination of several factors, including a shortage of security guards, reluctance by police and prosecutors to pursue shoplifting offenses, and the growing use of social media as an organizational tool.”

These crimes have mostly targeted large stores with inventory that is easy to resell, so for most of us they are hopefully not a danger.  But it is likely that shoplifting is increasing across the board now, and it can be devastating to small businesses recovering from the pandemic. 

There are many reasons that people steal from stores.  Some thefts are motivated by a need for food, or for goods that can be fenced to buy drugs.  Some are motivated by the thrill of getting away with something illegal. Many states have a high threshold for prosecuting retail theft, and law enforcement won’t go after a suspect unless the amount stolen is greater than this minimum.  One action you can take to help curtail shoplifting is to lobby for the threshold in your state to be lowered.

Some people steal because a temptation presents itself. While it is unfair to blame the victim for a crime that is committed, retailers would be wise to limit the accessibility to high value merchandise. There are many security systems and devices on the market that may help reduce theft in your store, including cameras and mirrors. Modifying your store layout could also be a way to deter shoplifting.

Others steal for emotional reasons, out of anger, boredom, grief. While you can’t solve the problems of everyone who walks through your doors, you can try to create a retail experience that does not to add to their feeling of alienation. Encouraging your staff to interact with customers can improve sales and also help deter shoplifting.

These are just a few ideas for avoiding a complex and costly problem that can have a severe impact on the profitability of your business.  For more advice, check with your local Small Business Development Center or police department.

Happy retailing, 

Carol “Orange” Schroeder