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Retailers Grapple With Increased Shoplifting-Related Violence


Retailers are contending with a growing amount of violence along with the existing challenge of shoplifting.

In two recent incidents, employees at retail stores were shot and killed by suspected shoplifters. In another, an employee shot a shoplifter who had sprayed him with mace, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported Thursday (Sept. 14).

Eight in 10 retailers have reported an increase in violence and aggression linked to organized retail crime incidents in 2022, the report said, citing figures from the National Retail Federation. Target, for example, recorded a 120% surge in theft incidents involving violence or threats of violence during the first five months of the year.

Retailers had already been grappling with a wave of theft, including both individual acts and organized theft rings, per the report. To combat this issue, companies have implemented various measures such as locking up merchandise, hiring off-duty police officers and even closing heavily targeted stores. Despite these efforts, however, the risks for workers remain high.

With the increase in violent incidents related to shoplifting, the approach to handling shoplifting cases varies among businesses, according to the report. While larger chains often instruct employees not to directly confront shoplifters, smaller businesses face additional challenges due to limited resources and the inability to easily relocate.

Some retailers instruct their employees to avoid conflict and contact the police only if there is a threat to physical safety, the report said. In addition, some emphasize that their security personnel are specially trained to address shoplifters and minimize risks for employees and customers. But the increasing aggression and violence associated with theft present significant challenges for retailers in ensuring worker safety.

Retailers are increasingly collaborating with law enforcement to track repeat offenders and conducting their own investigations to hand cases over to local police, per the report. However, there is a growing consensus that further action is needed to protect people from crime, including theft.

The rise in shoplifting and violence has also led to a surge in turnover among part-time employees in the retail industry. The turnover rate stood at around 75% in 2020, but has leaped to 95% since then, Bloomberg reported Sept. 7, citing data from Korn Ferry.

The report attributed the rise in turnover in part to the increase in both shoplifting incidents and “guest-on-associate violence.”

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