NEW YORK (Reuters) – Retailers from Wal-Mart to Barnes & Noble are installing cameras or locking up items to deter shoplifters and thieves as they prepare for a rush of shoppers after the pandemic hit this year.
Some, including Walmart, JC Penney, and Walgreens, have put in place new monitoring systems or more security guards. Others, like Target and Barnes & Noble, enclose merchandise behind plexiglass or tie them with steel cables to stock the shelves.
The retail industry has denounced shoplifting this holiday season as it grapples with overstocked inventories and slumping consumer spending at a time of soaring inflation.
“Sales have been suppressed. Profits are penalized at a time of the highest inflation rate in 42 years. Now with the cost of preventing crime rising, that will be passed on at higher prices,” said Bert Flickinger, managing director of retail. Consulting company Strategic Resources Group.
He added that the impact on holiday sales and earnings “would be horrific”. “Nowadays you can see shampoo closed, along with acetaminophen and Tylenol and multiple packets of toothpaste closed…. People who plan to shop in stores will not want to go to these closed and overly secured stores. So retailers generally lose both. of planned purchases and impulse purchases.
Crime has been in the spotlight since a series of brazen and violent store robberies — including a “smash and grab” incident during last year’s holiday season in which 80 people rushed into Nordstrom near San Francisco and ran out with handfuls of merchandise, injuring five employees. One survey by the National Retail Federation (NRF) indicated a 26.5% jump last year in “organized retail crime” carried out by groups of people.
But it is unclear whether overall retail crime in the United States is on the rise, with little data available on the problem. Total losses from shoplifting, theft, fraud and errors for US retailers in 2021 remained flat at an average rate of 1.4% of total sales, the same as over the previous five years.
However, retailers are shifting more resources toward security this quarter, which could add pressure on margins already squeezed by higher gas, transportation, labor and raw material costs.
Part of the problem is that prosecuting petty crimes is daunting, and some states have raised their thresholds for the value of stolen goods to around $1,000 to trigger a felony charge.
This puts the burden on crime prevention in the first place, especially during the Thanksgiving holiday when a record turnout of shoppers is expected. The busy holiday season accounts for nearly 20% of all US retail sales for the year.
Monitor and strobe lights
The sign of the times can be seen in the small communities of Paducah, Kentucky, and Opelika, Alabama, where Walmart, JC Penney, Walgreens, and other major retailers have brought in large mobile monitoring units that record all activity in their parking lots.
Walmart, for example, said it has nine monitoring units outside three massive supermarkets in both cities.
Paducah Police Chief Brian Laird said the units, which are being provided by LiveView Technologies as part of a pilot program, provide 24-hour live video to retailers so they can alert authorities to suspicious activity. They also have flashing lights and loud speakers to warn potential thieves to notice their actions.
Other retailers have focused their anti-theft efforts inside their stores. For example, Target in White Plains, New York, put all of its Ulta Beauty cosmetics behind closed plexiglass.
At Barnes & Noble in the Galleria Mall in White Plains, American Girl ‘Wellie Wisher’ dolls are chained to the shelves with electronic ties. At another Barnes & Noble store in Manhattan, customers have to carry empty Lego boxes to the cashiers and receive the pieces after they’ve been purchased.
Major consumer products companies like Procter & Gamble are upset – and so are shoppers.
Procter & Gamble said last week it was investing in in-store displays to avoid razor blades stuck in a glass case, while shoppers complain that locked displays and cables slow them down and force them to find staff who can free merchandise.
“The target has a new feature!” TikTokmanifest user_makeup wrote in the caption of a video shared in September to her 20k followers. “Everything is now behind glass just like Walmart!”
Rex Fryberger, a 40-year-old Los Angeles resident, says he’s noticed “more and more items” placed behind plexiglass at Walmart where he shops for holiday gifts.
“My biggest pet peeve of having so many things behind closed doors,” he said, “is that there aren’t enough store workers on the floor to help open those doors.”
Retailers rarely publicly acknowledge the threat of theft or crime because they generally do not want to scare shoppers.
But Target said last week that it had seen a “sharp drop” in discretionary spending and revealed that the theft could wipe out more than $600 million in gross profits this year. This is nearly 2% of the $31 billion in total profits it made last year.
“Along with other retailers, we’ve seen a significant increase in theft and organized retail crime across our business,” Target CEO Brian Cornell told investors on a November 16 conference call.
As a result, we make significant investments in training and technology that can deter theft and keep our guests and store team members safe. ”
(Reporting by Dwensola Oladipo; Editing by Deba Babbington)