Retail theft has exploded in recent years, creating a multi-billion dollar problem for retailers and forcing businesses to take drastic measures to protect themselves from lost profits.
Many pharmacies, grocery stores and other retailers have reduced their hours of operation or been forced to close permanently as locked-up merchandise becomes commonplace to protect against shoplifters and thieves.
“It has to do with all the shoplifting,” a Walgreens employee told Fox Business last month when explaining why ice cream freezers were secured with chains and locks.
Crime has taken a heavy toll on retailers across the country, costing businesses an estimated $94.5 billion, the National Retail Federation reported last month. This has affected businesses large and small, with Target reporting a 50% increase in shoplifting incidents last year, representing a whopping $400 million in losses.
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A new report from DealAid, which was provided to Fox News Digital, found that more than 80% of retailers across the country saw an increase in violence associated with theft in the past year. According to the report, some 56% of small retail businesses have been victims of theft in the past year and 46% of small businesses have had to raise prices due to shoplifting.
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Beyond installing more private security measures such as cameras, security guards and dedicated retail loss prevention team members, some stores are taking more sophisticated measures to protect their merchandise.
Home repair chain Lowe’s has announced a crackdown on power tool theft, with a new process that would render items virtually unusable after they are stolen. A new initiative called “Project Unlock” will use RFID chips and scanners to activate power tools upon purchase.
If a power tool is stolen and not activated at checkout, it will not turn on.
“Over the past few years, theft — primarily by organized groups — has increased for the entire retail industry,” Lowe’s said in a December 2022 video announcing the initiative. “The net result has been locked-in store experiences that penalize customers.”
“We believe there are better ways to combat theft than locking down products.”
Home Depot launched a similar initiative last year to protect its power tools.
But for many other retailers, locking down merchandise remains the primary response to soaring crime, especially in cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York.
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“Everyone is locking everything down. It’s a siege mentality,” Joe Budano, CEO of Indyme, told Forbes last year. Indyme is a San Diego-based company that sells security devices like help buttons that customers press when they need an employee to retrieve something from a locked cabinet, and according to Budano, business has exploded by 40% last year.
Customers at some drugstores and big box stores have seen everything from candy to mascara to locked nose spray in recent months, sparking frustration.
“I’ve always had trouble getting a staff member to come and unlock them,” Arizona’s Roger Evans told Insider last month when explaining why he stopped shopping at Walgreens and CVS for razors. “Pharmacies have been perpetually understaffed.”
While security helps prevent theft, it risks losing customers due to the extra time waiting for a store employee to come and unlock a cabinet or product, critics said. Budano estimated that retailers typically see a 15-25% drop in sales from customers who decline to purchase a locked item, opting instead to purchase online or from another store.
Some smaller stores that sell high-end merchandise, such as jewelry, have decided to operate by appointment only.
In New York earlier this month, a jewelry store was targeted by masked thieves who stole up to $2 million worth of gemstones in less than a minute.
The Brooklyn jewelry store will now operate by appointment only until it installs more security measures. It’s a tactic Madison Avenue stores on the Upper East Side used last year to combat daytime shoplifters, The New York Post reported in April.
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Small business owners who don’t have the funds of a national chain are getting even more creative about protecting their inventory.
A Houston, Texas bar owner told Fox News’ “Fox & Friends” this month that he slept in his restaurant to protect against burglaries.
“This is a major issue for our city right now,” said Cobo BBQ owner Raul Jacobo. co-host Carley Shimkus. “If I’m frustrated…based on these burglaries, I can imagine how families feel they’ve actually lost loved ones to some criminals being released back onto the streets.”
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“It’s just a very frustrating situation…all around…we have no choice but to sleep in our facilities just to protect what’s ours,” he added.
In Philadelphia, a gas station owner has hired private security guards who wear Kevlar vests and are armed with AR-15s or shotguns to protect the establishment.
Last year, San Francisco police scouted popular retailers such as Walgreens, Old Navy, Target, Whole Foods, CVS and Macy’s to catch shoplifters and other retail thieves.
Shoplifting and organized retail theft are unlikely to disappear from stores this year, experts say.
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Research published by DealAid shows that retail organized crime increased by 26.5% last year, but the vast majority of retailers, at around 68%, do not have dedicated prevention departments organized retail crimes, such as smash-and-grabs.