Shoplifting Is Now Costing Retailers (& Consumers) A LOT

Photo: Brendon Thorne/Bloomberg/Getty Images.
When we think of high-stakes shoplifting, we might recall the infamous Bling Ring or even the five-finger-discount Tumblrs from a few years back. But Quartz reports that the new worrying trend in retail crime targets less flashy but essential items, like hygiene and beauty products, at an incredibly large scale — which ends up costing retailers big time.

According to a study from the National Retail Federation (NRF) from 2014, organized retail crime costs U.S. retailers about $30 billion. By 2015, 97% of businesses polled by the NRF for its annual survey on the topic reported that they were affected by it. That estimated loss isn't made up exclusively of luxury handbags and other high-priced fashion goods: Quartz notes that shoplifters go after items that are "crucial yet pricy," such as baby formula, pregnancy tests, and other health and hygiene products. Shoplifters will then either resell these products online or return them to the retailers for cash, store credit, or even gift cards.

Aside from the irony of stores having to buy their own merchandise back, this comes at a great cost to manufacturers and companies, which means it eventually trickles down to the consumers. "In poor neighborhoods, it becomes a real hardship to try and find these things," Nick Selby, a Dallas-area police detective, told Quartz of what happens when shoplifters target lower-income areas and deplete their supply of essential products, such as diabetic testing strips. "If all of your diabetes testing strips are stolen out of the store, at some point you can't charge enough to make that a profitable item. If you’ve got an elderly person who has to get this, they are going to have to leave your city [if] your local pharmacy stops selling them." What's more, Quartz adds this trend accounts for an estimated $1.6 billion loss in sales tax revenue each year — so it's not just stores like T.J. Maxx and Walmart being affected.

The figures may stack up when it comes to health and hygiene products, but the same behavior of targeting lower-cost items more frequently is pervasive in the fashion market, too. An anonymous former retail employee told Refinery29 back in 2014 that, when she was a manager at a clothing boutique, she noticed thieves tended to gravitate towards the cheaper items. "I think the people that were stealing didn't have an eye for the expensive stuff," she told us. "I think they were young and just wanted the trendy leggings and didn't want to pay $50 for them. It was always the same: packaged T-shirts, leggings, underwear. Small things that you could roll up and put in your bag." Plus, anyone who's tried to shop a fast-fashion designer collaboration is well aware of resellers.

There's also the issue of counterfeits — which, including the fake luxury goods market, is an industry thought to be worth $500 billion worldwide. Plus, this organized retail crime trend requires shoppers to be more vigilant about expired medicine, cleaning supplies, and beauty products, which could actually post health risks to a consumer. Yikes.

Head on over to Quartz for the full report.
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