Locking Up Retail Items Doesn’t Always Stop Theft, and It’s a Worldwide Worry

Retail crime isn’t solely affecting the United States; it’s also a burgeoning concern on the other side of the Atlantic. 

On Sunday (Oct 1), 88 U.K. retailers united to endorse a letter drafted by the British Retail Consortium (BRC). This letter was addressed to Home Secretary Suella Braverman, urging swift action to tackle the rising incidents of retail crime. 

In the correspondence, retailers including Clarks, Dr. Martens and JD Sports conveyed the need for support in safeguarding their staff, who are subjected to violence and harassment often orchestrated by organized criminal groups, as well as instances of “anti-social behavior.”

In light of this, the retailers are calling on the government to introduce a new legal offense specifically addressing assaults, threats or mistreatment of retail workers. This would facilitate more stringent penalties for offenders, similar to the 2021 Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) Act that was enacted in Scotland, and would send a clear message that Parliament will not tolerate crime and violence directed at retail workers. It would also require police to record all cases of retail crime. 

Retailers are urging the U.K. government to make addressing retail crime a top priority for the country’s police forces. As per the BRC’s 2023 Crime Survey, from April 1, 2021, to March 31, 2022, incidents of violence and abuse directed at retail workers in the U.K. nearly doubled when compared to pre-pandemic levels, with a daily average of 867 occurrences. 

The appeal to protect retail workers comes as the National Retail Federation (NRF) revealed its latest U.S. data. According to these findings, shrinkage resulted in losses of $112.1 billion in 2022 when calculated as a percentage of total retail sales, marking an increase from the $93.9 billion reported in 2021. 

The Problem in the US

On Thursday (Sept 28), in Philadelphia, groups entered retail stores during the early hours and stole merchandise. This occurred despite an increased police presence that was unable to stop the looting spree. 

The two-night spree, which led to multiple arrests last week, primarily targeted a car dealership, an Apple electronics store, liquor shops, and several other stores. 

Target announced last month its intention to close nine stores in major U.S. urban centers. The company cited unsafe working conditions for its employees and an “unsustainable” business environment. 

“We cannot continue operating these stores because theft and organized retail crime are threatening the safety of our team and guests, and contributing to unsustainable business performance,” Target said in a statement. 

Retailers such as Walmart and Home Depot have brought up this matter in their recent earnings calls. 

Read more: Retail Theft Costs US Merchants Like Walmart and Target $100 Billion a Year 

While some retailers have closed their doors in specific locations, others have implemented measures like securing high-value items behind plexiglass and installing surveillance cameras and other security systems. Walmart CEO Doug McMillon mentioned that the company avoids the necessity of “locking anything up” to prevent any negative impact on business and customer interaction. 

Placing valuable items behind barriers can be frustrating for shoppers who want to examine products and make informed choices. Delays can occur as customers wait for staff assistance, reducing the overall enjoyment of in-store shopping.  

“They’re locking stuff up like crazy today,” said Joe Budano, CEO Indyme, an anti-theft technology company which has seen a 30% surge in sales of help buttons used to alert an employee when a customer requests an item to be unlocked. “Retailers are just throwing the kitchen sink at [the shrink issue] right now.” 

As a result, in contrast to traditional store visits where customers frequently stumble upon unexpected products, fostering impulse purchases, the “locked up” experience with added barriers and security checks may curtail these unplanned buying opportunities. Customers may choose to stick to their predefined shopping lists, refraining from impulsive purchases.