Consumer Alert: Shoplifting is the crime we all pay for

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — This consumer alert looks at the price we pay for shoplifting. Retailers say a confluence of events has led to a dramatic increase in shoplifting, not the least of which is inflation. But consumers ultimately pay the price.

Shoplifting is rampant. And we’re seeing two kinds of shoplifters — people stealing for themselves, and organized gangs of thieves who resell stolen goods to support their criminal operation. That type of shoplifting has increased 60% since 2015, and when thieves score, the rest of us lose.

At Walmart, we pay the price of convenience. So many cosmetics are stolen, this Walmart Supercenter on Hudson Avenue puts them all in one closed section with only one way in or out, cameras conspicuously placed advertising their presence. And the things Deanna Dewberry always need, lashes, are locked away, and she must wait for an employee with a key to make my purchase.

Walmart is not alone. The National Retail Federation, or NRF, reports retailers saw a dramatic rise in shoplifting during the pandemic.

“NRF’s national security survey shows that retail theft is $100 million problem,” said David Johnston, the NRF’s Vice-President of Asset Protection and Retail Operation.

And Walmart’s CEO said recently that those costs will eventually result in higher prices. For thieves, there are few consequences. Most retailers have instructed employees not to try to stop shoplifters.

“Retailers continue to report an increase in violence during shoplifting events often associated with organized retail crime,” said Johnston.

Home improvement stores are a favorite target of gangs of thieves who steal expensive tools to resell them online. That’s why Home Depot has strategically placed power tools on aisles that have decorative doors and an employee on one end, and the check-out counter at the other.

“Retailers are also looking at cutting edge tech technologies like RFID to track or disable items should they be stolen,” said Johnston. RFID is Radio Frequency Identification Technology that tracks an item. But Home Depot’s technology goes a step further. The retailer has unveiled power tools that won’t work unless they’re scanned and activated at the register via Bluetooth.

All this is costly for the retailer, and ultimately for us as well. And anyone who has shopped in a store in a high crime area knows the cost to consumers is more than money. It’s that sense of freedom lost when there’s so much security in a store, we’re all made to feel like criminals. And that, perhaps, is the greatest cost.