November and December are peak months for shoplifting. Not really a surprise. Shoplifting increases 10 percent or more during the holidays, according to security companies.
Retailers are getting better at preventing shoplifting and recovering some of their merchandise, but the losses are still staggering. The average value of items stolen per case is $134.
Over $10 billion in merchandise is lost annually, according to University of Florida research of the nation’s largest retailers, and just $159 million in stolen merchandise was recovered in 2014. Another $82 million was recovered when the shoplifter got away.
Nearly 1.2 million shoplifters were caught in 2014, an increase in apprehensions of 7.4 percent over the previous year, according to the annual retail theft survey by Jack Hayes International, a loss prevention consulting firm. The survey included 25 large retailers with over $700 billion in sales and 23,250 stores.
Most of those caught are impulse shoplifters – about one quarter are teenagers and many are adults who started stealing as teens and still shoplift to relieve emotional pressures and “for the rush of getting away with it,” according to the National Association of Shoplifting Prevention.
Approximately one in 11 people shoplift, the association says, and most of the time it is an impulse decision. Only about 3 percent are “professional” shoplifters who think of shoplifting as a business and often work in teams, with one thief distracting employees while another one steals.
Professionals are finding it easier to sell the stolen merchandise because of more online auction sites that bring in faster sales and higher profits than traditional means of flea market sales, Jack Hayes International said.
Much of the solution to the shoplifting problem is education – in particular educating school-age children of the serious consequences of theft.
Education of store personnel is also essential so that they are on the lookout for telltale signs of shoplifters – such as customers who wear baggy clothing, push baby carriages or carry large bags.
Education of retailers includes strategically placing security cameras, using anti-theft tags on merchandise, posting signs warning of prosecution for shoplifting, keeping expensive items behind lock and key, limiting items allowed in dressing rooms, and maintaining neatly arranged displays away from exits that are visible to employees.
Providing good customer service is the best deterrent to shoplifting, Jack Hayes International advised, because shoplifters need privacy to steal. Having employees walk around the floor checking on customers is the last thing shoplifters want.
The even sadder state of affairs for retailers is that shoplifting accounts for only about a quarter of their merchandise losses.
Over $35 billion in retail losses in 2014 resulted from employees, with an average theft per case of $835. That’s six times the amount stolen by shoplifters and a 16 percent increase over the previous year.
One in 38 retail employees steals, the survey found.