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Shoplifting climbs as in-store shopping returns-organized retail crime rises 50% 

Toilet paper was a hot commodity Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020, at the Walker Road Fred Meyer in Beaverton. (Grant Butler | The Oregonia/TNS)
May 21, 2023

As Americans return to in-store shopping after pandemic-era lockdowns, retailers find themselves struggling with a dramatic increase in shoplifting. 

Research shows the measures retailers are taking to limit losses, such as stocking high-value or frequently stolen goods behind locking devices, may be harming sales. 

Last year, former Chairman and CEO of Chrysler and Home Depot CEO Bob Nardelli raised the alarm on shoplifting increases when he appeared on ‘Fox and Friends,’ according to the New York Post.

“Today, this thing is an epidemic. It’s spreading faster than COVID,” Nardelli said. 

National Retail Federation (NRF) provides an annual survey on retail business, recording profits and losses. For the 2021 report, ‘shrinkage’, the term used by retailers to identify loss of goods that affects retail profit, was 94.5 billion dollars. While this is only a four percent increase from 2020, it represents a 53 percent increase from numbers reported in 2019. 

For 2022, shrinkage was found to be a nearly $100 billion problem for retailers. According to the NRF, organized retail crime (ORC) is directly tied to these increases, and is a growing concern for retailers. 

The NRF report on ORC identifies that ORC primarily operates in groups that are independent of one another, with electronics targeted in roughly nine percent of theft operations, while luxury goods were targeted in 11 percent. The average shoplifter manages to steal approximately $5,000 in retail value prior to arrest. 

Of these ORC groups, 45 percent used online shopping platforms to resell stolen merchandise. More concerning is that ORC members may be sidestepping the physical stores entirely, as the NRF reports that between 2019 and 2021, cargo theft increased by 84 percent. The Union Pacific Railroad reported an annual increase of 160 percent for the year 2021 alone. 

Despite these alarming statistics, NRF reports 81 percent of ORC groups target everyday consumer goods, as they’re easy to steal and resell.

This has lead to a sight that’s become all too common for shoppers in a post-pandemic retail world. Locked cases have appeared across the nation for small, moderately valuable goods such as laundry detergent, razors, and hygiene products. 

According to Axios, these protective measures are decreasing sales and may be aiding ORC units in selling their stolen items. 

Joe Budano, CEO of Indyme, an anti-theft company, said he believes these inconveniences can lower a store’s sales by up to 25 percent. As shoppers turn to online sources, they’re potentially purchasing from ORC rings without knowing it. 

Technology is assisting retailers with finding a way to protect profits without alienating consumers.

Retailers are swapping locked cases for chiming panels, equipping electronic merchandise with codes that render them unusable in the event of theft, and adding facial-recognition software to security cameras as effective, user-friendly anti-theft measures.