As incidents of retail crime continue to escalate throughout the country, retailers have seen a dramatic jump in financial losses associated with theft. When taken as a percentage of total retail sales in 2022, shrink accounted for $112.1 billion in losses, up from $93.9 billion* in 2021, according to the 2023 National Retail Security Survey released today by the National Retail Federation.
“Retailers are seeing unprecedented levels of theft coupled with rampant crime in their stores, and the situation is only becoming more dire,” NRF Vice President for Asset Protection and Retail Operations David Johnston said in a press release. “Far beyond the financial impact of these crimes, the violence and concerns over safety continue to be the priority for all retailers, regardless of size or category.”
Inflation Isn’t Helping the Crime Rates
Back in May, Target said it was bracing to lose half a billion dollars this year because of rising theft. Many experts are saying the rising economic fears amid inflation, rising costs of goods across the board and interest rates could the the cause of the increase in shoplifting.
Although inflation is cooling, albeit slowly, U.S. prices are still on the rise. With the holiday shopping season coming up, Americans are hurting after a two-year slog of enduring painfully high prices, and are struggling to sustain themselves and their families.
According to NRF’s survey, the average shrink rate in FY 2022 increased to 1.6%, up from 1.4% the previous year. Shrink percentages can vary significantly by retail sector. On par with previous years, internal and external theft accounted for nearly two-thirds (65%) of retailers’ shrink.
Organized Retail Crime Remains a Concern
Retailers reported that organized retail crime (ORC) remains a significant concern due to heightened levels of violence. More than two-thirds (67%) of respondents said they were seeing even more violence and aggression from ORC perpetrators compared with a year ago.
Even though retailers continue to enhance their loss prevention and asset protection measures, sometimes more drastic action must be taken. Retailers reported being forced to close a specific store location (28%), reduce operating hours (45%) or reduce or alter in-store product selection (30%) as a direct result of retail crime.
As violence has increased, more retailers have opted to enforce a “hands off” approach in the apprehension of shoplifters. More survey respondents said that no employees are authorized to stop or apprehend shoplifters (41%), compared with 38% last year.
The types of products shoplifters are targeting may not be based solely on price point. Products can range from high-price, high-fashion items to everyday products that have a fast resale capability. While ORC groups have traditionally targeted specific items or types of goods, that list has expanded to new categories like outerwear, batteries, energy drinks, designer footwear and kitchen accessories.
The top five cities/metropolitan areas affected by ORC in the past year were Los Angeles, San Francisco/Oakland, Houston, New York and Seattle.
Retailers are Evolving Their Loss Prevention Tactics
As retail crime continues to evolve in scope and sophistication, so are retailers’ prevention efforts. When asked about resource allocation to address today’s risks in NRF’s report, 34% have increased internal payroll to support their risks, while 46% have increased the use of third-party security personnel. Over half (53%) have increased their technology and software solution budgets in the past year. With violence being one of the most concerning risks, 54% have increased or are increasing employee workplace violence training.
“Retailers are piloting and implementing a number of loss prevention practices to deter, prevent and mitigate these substantial losses,” University of Florida Research Scientist and Loss Prevention Research Council Director Read Hayes said in the report. “In addition to enhancing traditional security measures, many are also allocating resources to innovative emerging technologies for future prevention.”
Policy reform is another critical component of the retail industry’s efforts to combat ORC. Initiatives such as raising the felony theft threshold – the amount that must be stolen in order to be considered a felony – or removing or eliminating cash bail may have unintended consequences for retail theft. Nearly three-quarters (72%) of respondents reported they have seen an increase in the average value per incident in localities that raised their minimum felony thresholds, while another 67% reported an increase in repeat offenders in areas associated with initiatives to reduce or eliminate cash bail. Nearly all (93%) are in support of federal ORC legislation.