What stores like Walmart and Target doing to stop theft—aside from locking items up

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‘As consumers… we have a role’: What stores like Walmart and Target are doing to stop theft—aside from locking items up

'It’s changed every job in retail.'


Braden Bjella


Posted on Mar 8, 2024   Updated on Mar 8, 2024, 4:40 pm CST

As anyone shopping at retail stores in recent years can attest, efforts to curb shoplifting have become dramatic, both in scope and implementation. Many shoppers report going to retail locations and seeing all items behind glass, or noting that full aisles of certain stores have been sectioned off from shoppers.

This development is interesting, as data from the National Retail Federation has found that, as of the group’s 2023 report, the percentage of shrinkage that can be attributed to external theft has remained consistent since at least 2015 at around 36%.

On March 8, Christie Fleischer of Benefit Cosmetics and David Johnston, VP of Asset Protection & Retail Operations at the National Retail Federation (NRF) were part of a panel at Austin’s SXSW Festival. The topic of the panel was retail crime and how businesses can better prepare themselves, and their employees, for incidents involving crime.

According to these experts, the perception of an increase in crime, whether or not it is actually happening, has caused issues across the retail industry.

“Whether it’s a real or perceived threat to them…” explained Fleischer, “it’s changed every job in retail.”

Johnston added that employers are having difficulty finding and retaining employees, saying that the perceived danger of retail jobs is making it harder for employers to find and keep workers.

Part of these issues can be found in reports and publicity stemming from the NRF itself. The group’s most recent Retail Security Survey noted that “organized retail crime” is causing major issues for employers, with the report specifically citing “aggressive or violent shoplifters” and “those involved in groups, gangs, and smash-and-grab thefts.”

There is currently no reliable data to support the idea that smash-and-grab robberies are on the rise. Furthermore, others have questioned the reliability of claims surrounding “organized retail crime” due to, among other factors, differences in opinion behind the meaning of the term.

Despite this, Johnston claimed during the panel that in a survey, 45% of responding retailers reduced hours, and 28% have closed stores, because of shoplifting and crime.

“It’s not quantifiable,” he said, regarding retailer perceptions of crime, after being questioned by the Daily Dot on the discrepancy between this statistic and the unchanging level of reported external theft. “It would be based on the retailer’s perception and whatever factors they take into consideration to determine whether to close the store or change hours.”

No matter why this fear is happening, or whether these fears are founded in data, retailers are finding themselves feeling the need to respond, with Johnston saying during the panel that retailers are in a “reactionary stage.”

“Technology will play a big role in helping us out,” he stated in regards to solutions to retail crime issues. He also stressed the importance of cooperation between retailers, police, and prosecutors, while encouraging people to question the source of their items when they are shopping online or through destinations like street markets.

“As consumers… we have a role in preventing this retail crime from taking place,” he shared.

Above all, panelists stressed the need for employee safety and better training and preparation for employees in criminal situations. Fleischer noted that retailers are now “considering the entire theft cycle,” ranging from training employees and reporting incidents to altering how inventory is managed.

“Even though the data’s not there, what we’re seeing out there is definitely concerning,” summarized Johnston.

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*First Published: Mar 8, 2024, 2:30 pm CST