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Organised Retail Theft

Posted by Flux on 

13 December 2021

What’s trending?
Shoplifting and theft is on the rise, particularly in the United States, but it has taken on a new dimension. Thieves have become bolder and more organised, targeting mostly high-end retail stores en masse. Also known as flash-mob theft, multiple thieves hit a store at once and are insulated by their sheer numbers.They storm into a store, usually unarmed, overwhelm the staff and in a matter of minutes can steal hundreds of thousands of rands of product. A Nordstrom store in California was recently hit by a flash mob of more than 80 people who stole designer goods, while at least  14 people stole from a Louis Vuitton store in Chicago. It’s thought that one reason for this activity is that shoplifting goods below $950 in parts of the US and £200 in the UK is considered a misdemeanour, not a prosecutable crime, so there’s relative safety in numbers. In South Africa we have seen mall stores, especially electronics and jewellery stores being targeted but they are generally not by large groups of people. The July riots here fall into a different category.


Above: ‘Flash mob’ shoplifters descend on Pleasant Prairie North Face store

Why is it important? 
According to the National Retail Federation, organised retail crime costs retailers on average $700,000 per $1 billion in sales each year. Such crime results in billions of dollars in annual lost economic activity. Best Buy Co. shares plunged after the electronics retailer announced that widespread theft contributed to a decrease in profitability. After theft rates spiked in San Francisco, Walgreens said it would close five of its stores. The impact of such shoplifting is making a dent in the profits of these retailers. Consumers also bear the brunt of these crimes. A spokesperson for the Florence Police Department, said “When businesses are hit by shoplifters it typically leads to a price increase on items to make up for what companies call “shrinkage.””

What can businesses do about it? 
Businesses, particularly upmarket ones, need to invest in robust security measures. Increasing the number of cameras, for example, would be one such anti-shoplifting effort, as well as making sure that there is at least one heavily visible security guard. Security gates, the kind that banks use, where only one person at a time can enter or leave the store are advisable. Many South African jewellery stores already have these in place. Businesses should also make sure that they are insured for these kinds of eventualities. For safety reasons, law enforcement agencies advise not engaging with these groups of criminals. 

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By Faeeza Khan

Image credit: Gabe Pierce  

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