Shoplifting gets wild and goes viral

Photo: Getty Images/Михаил Руденко
Dec 20, 2019
Al McClain

Shoplifting has always been a problem for retailers, but it may be getting even further out of hand. A video clip of multiple “customers” grabbing armloads of clothes from a Sears store in California has gone viral. Posted last week, the clip currently has been liked over 122,000 times, and retweeted over 34,000 times.

Online, there were varied opinions, of course. There were plenty of jokes about how desperate people must be to steal from Sears, which is pretty much broke itself.

Astoundingly, the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention says that nearly 10 percent of Americans steal from stores. The latest survey from NRF says that retailers lost over $50 billion last year from shrinkage. With retail margins as thin as they are, that’s real money. According to a MarketWatch article, an average incident for a smaller retailer (500 or fewer stores) costs about $750, while larger retailers lose just over $300 on average.

According to NRF, fewer shoplifters are getting arrested and prosecuted than in 2015, even though big losses are causing retailers to raise prices to offset losses, and stealing hurts sales tax revenue as well. An NASP spokesperson told MarketWatch that the perception that “it’s no big deal” is the bane of their existence.

A cursory web search found stories in the news about shoplifters tossing their infant at security guards at a Target store as they ran away; shoppers being injured at a Ross department store as a getaway van plowed into a store aisle; police busting a fraudulent barcode shoplifting ring in Alabama; and teens pepper spraying security guards at a mall, while stealing. And, that’s just a small sample.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Are new theft tactics, lenient retail policies, social media or other factors most to blame for exacerbated shoplifting problems? Should retailers focus more on the prevention of shoplifting via more security guards and high-tech solutions, or by working with the community and offenders to prevent recidivism?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"There does seem to be a culture of looking for riskier and more thrilling adventures, especially if they don't get caught. It's the thrill of the hunt on steroids."
"The theft triangle used to consist of motivation, opportunity and lack of detection."
"...if someone gets caught stealing, the odds of prosecution are almost zero unless it is major theft, and thieves know this."

Join the Discussion!

15 Comments on "Shoplifting gets wild and goes viral"

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Richard Hernandez

My question is, why would you do it when you know that someone will capture it on their phone and eventually catch the robbers?

Brad Johnson
1 year 2 months ago

Unfortunately, a lot are never caught. Video has become less of a deterrent. Just look at the dramatic rise of “porch pirates” caught on Ring cam.

Bob Phibbs

I don’t presume to know all the reasons — whether drug addiction, social media, or jaded employees tasked to protect merchandise who don’t give a whit about it — but there does seem to be a culture looking for riskier and more thrilling adventures, especially if they don’t get caught. It’s the thrill of the hunt on steroids.

Cathy Hotka

Amen. There’s a coarsening in the country and a willingness to disregard basic social norms. I was shocked when I saw the video, but then not surprised.

Ed Rosenbaum

It’s difficult to know or get to the root cause be it drugs, poverty or simply the thrill of the steal. We, the general public, have become hardened by seeing this type of activity often on our local news. Just two days ago we had a chase scene up and then back down the turnpike. Local news covered it until the criminals were captured. Then it was back to what we were doing. Oh well… now it is on to the next act of stupidity.

Lee Peterson

The first move any retailer makes when business is soft is to cut sales floor coverage/payroll. It’s an immediate reduction of expense and can show its benefit right away — on the books, that is. So you can only imagine how sparse the coverage is now in challenged retailers like Sears and many more. Given that, the reason shrink in stores is increasing is because it’s just plain easier (as witnessed in the video). Who’s there to stop it?

Theft has always been a major issue at physical retail, which, IMO, should further speed the move to dominant online shopping, where the shrink from something like porch pirates is on the customer, not the retailer.

Tony Orlando

The policy of these stores is to not stop them. The crooks know the policy, and they could care less about getting caught, as nothing happens to these bums. The Wild West favors the criminals, and it is pathetic to see how bad it has gotten. This will not end well, and I hope no employees are harmed from these gangs of thieves.

Georganne Bender

This is the time of year I dreaded when I ran a store on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile. We could always count on a few times when groups of shoplifters would grab entire racks of clothing and run out the door. And there was always at least one episode of a store associate getting punched in the face or thrown into a Sensormatic tower. Everyone was on edge. Sharing on social media has made it worse.

Ananda Chakravarty

For community service Target has a powerful program.
This builds and feeds into reputation as well as impacting shrinkage positively. The trends are tying loss prevention to organized crime – maybe not syndicates, but definitely groups who coordinate crime against retailers. Organizations like LPRC attempt to work on solutions to address this, but are also seeking technology solutions to fighting shrink. It’s almost on par with employee embezzlement. At large retailers, teams of people managed security in the past. Today it’s a single person in a camera room with a radio. Employees are instructed not to engage with the criminal and the expectations are post-event engagement by the police as larger thefts are typically committed by known suspects. The community is always the source as retail theft is mostly local.

Steve Montgomery

The theft triangle used to consist of motivation, opportunity and lack of detection. Retailers have been able to use technology to impact the opportunity and improve detection in order to control some shoplifting. However, what has made shoplifting an even greater problem is the lack of prosecution and/or it being classified as a misdemeanor rather than a felony. Logic would dictate that if the penalty for shoplifting is reduced the likelihood of it increases.

Ryan Mathews
This is old news for anyone who has worked in retailing in the last decade or so. There are two kinds of “mass” shoplifters; the first are in it for the money. They know they can “sweep” a display and walk out of the store pretty much risk-free. The second are self-indulgent narcissists who think it’s funny to post videos of themselves breaking a law. Where I live, a young genius was arrested after airing a video showing him pointing a gun at a police car and promising to kill the occupants. The first group can be dealt with by changes in policy, more aggressive forms of in-store theft control, and relentless prosecutions. Raise the risk, reduce the opportunity, and the problem will get better. The second is a social problem. Just like I never cared what you had for lunch, let alone had any interest in seeing photos of your meal, I really don’t want to watch somebody committing crimes — but millions of folks do. And as long as there is an audience… Read more »
Doug Garnett

Retailers are in a tough spot here. When my son worked for a well known retail outlet, they were specifically instructed NOT to take action with shoplifters for an array of complex reasons.

Unfortunately, there’s some human flaw which leads a narrow portion of the population — even those who don’t need the goods — to shoplift. We need to remember that White House advisor Claude Allen resigned in 2006 when Target’s fraud team found he was part of a shoplifting/returns scheme.

Up against that kind of flaw in the human psyche, retailers are in a tough spot.

Mel Kleiman

Just as in employee theft, it takes 3 things to steal. Need, opportunity, and attitude. There is no way for retailers to have any control over the need that shoppers have. Next is attitude. Again there is no way for a retailer to change the attitude that stealing is okay or that I deserve what I am taking. So the only thing that retailers have any control over is opportunity and this is becoming more and more difficult because if someone gets caught stealing, the odds of prosecution are almost zero unless it is major theft, and thieves know this.

Craig Sundstrom

Suffice it to say, I find the numbers (presented) suspect. An “average” incident is $750 … really? And the claim that stores “have to” raise prices to make up for it is illogical — prices are set by the market, not the loss department. But I certainly concede 1) shoplifting exists 2) it’s a major issue whether it’s getting worse or not. (This is particularly true in already understored areas that can least afford it).

Happily, there’s a trend well underway that will reduce the incidence of shoplifting. It’s called online shopping.

Ralph Jacobson

I’d blame it on movies that glamorize being bad, however it is still too easy to shoplift. As a supermarket manager in the ‘80s, I intentionally “paraded” the shoplifters I nabbed in handcuffs escorted by the cops, taking the long way out of the store, going up and down several aisles before being thrown in the squad car. Treat criminals as criminals and maybe the word will get around that yours is not the store to rob. It’s ok to be tough on crime.

"There does seem to be a culture of looking for riskier and more thrilling adventures, especially if they don't get caught. It's the thrill of the hunt on steroids."
"The theft triangle used to consist of motivation, opportunity and lack of detection."
"...if someone gets caught stealing, the odds of prosecution are almost zero unless it is major theft, and thieves know this."

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