Retail theft has surged over the past few years, causing billions of dollars in problems for retailers and forcing companies to take drastic action to prevent lost profits.
Many drugstores, grocery stores and other retailers have reduced hours or been forced to close permanently as locking down merchandise has become commonplace to deter shoplifting and robbing thieves.
“It’s related to all the shoplifting,” a Walgreens clerk told Fox Business last month why the ice cream freezers were secured with chains and locks.
Crime weighs heavily on retailers across the country, costing businesses an estimated $94.5 billion, the National Retail Federation reported last month. It’s affecting businesses large and small, with Target reporting a 50 percent increase in shoplifting incidents last year and a whopping $400 million in losses.
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A new report from DealAid for Fox News Digital found that more than 80 percent of retailers nationwide saw an increase in violence related to theft in the last year. About 56 percent of small retail businesses experienced theft in the last year, and 46 percent of small businesses had to raise prices due to shoplifting losses, the report said.
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As well as installing more personal security measures such as cameras, security guards and team members dedicated to retail loss prevention, some stores are taking more high-tech measures to protect their merchandise.
Home repair chain Lowe’s is announcing a crackdown on power tool theft and a new process to make items virtually unusable if stolen. A new initiative called “Project Unlock” will use RFID chips and scanners to activate power tools when they are purchased.
If the power tool is stolen and it wasn’t activated at checkout, it won’t turn on.
“Over the past few years, theft across the retail industry — largely driven by organized groups — has increased,” Lowe’s said in a December 2022 video announcing the move. “The end result is a locked-down store experience. , thereby punishing the customer.”
“We think there are better ways to deter theft than locking down products.”
Home Depot started a similar initiative last year to protect its power tools.
But for many other retailers, locking down merchandise remains the main response to a surge in crime — especially in cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York.
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“Everyone has everything locked up. It’s a siege mentality,” Indyme CEO Joe Budano told Forbes last year. Indyme, a San Diego-based company that sells security devices such as the help button that customers press when they need employees to retrieve something from a locked cabinet, saw business grow 40 percent last year, according to Budano.
Some pharmacy and big box store customers have sparked discontent in recent months at seeing everything from candy to mascara to nasal spray locked up.
“I’ve always found it hard to get a staff member to unlock them,” Roger Evans of Arizona told Insider last month why he stopped shopping at Walgreens and CVS to buy razors. “Pharmacies have been understaffed.”
Critics say that while the security measures help prevent theft, it risks losing customers due to increased wait times for store clerks to come to open cabinets or products. Retailers typically experience a 15% to 25% drop in sales, Budano estimates, as customers reject locked-in items and instead buy online or in other stores.
Some smaller stores selling high-end items such as jewelry have switched to appointment-only.
Earlier this month, in New York City, a jewelry store was targeted by masked thieves who stole up to $2 million worth of gems in less than a minute.
The Brooklyn jewelry store will now operate on an appointment-only basis until it installs more safety measures. It’s a tactic that Madison Avenue stores on the Upper East Side used last year to combat daytime shoplifting, The New York Post reported in April.
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Small business owners without the capital of a national chain are getting more creative to protect their inventory.
A bar owner in Houston, Texas, told Fox News’ “Fox & Friends” this month that he has been sleeping in his restaurant to prevent burglars.
“It’s a major problem in our city right now,” Cobo Grill owner Raul Jacobo told Co-host Carley Shimkus“If I’m feeling down … based on these burglaries, I can imagine how families will feel that they’ve actually lost a loved one because certain criminals are being put back on the streets.”
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“It’s just a very frustrating situation … everywhere … we have no choice but to sleep on our premises to protect our property,” he added.
In Philadelphia, a gas station owner hired private security guards wearing Kevlar vests and armed with AR-15s or shotguns to protect the establishment.
Last year, San Francisco police spied on popular retailers including Walgreens, Old Navy, Target, Whole Foods, CVS and Macy’s to catch shoplifters and other retail thieves.
Shoplifting and organized retail theft likely won’t disappear from stores this year, experts say.
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Research published by DealAid shows that organized retail crime has increased by 26.5% in the last year, yet the vast majority of retailers (about 68%) do not have departments dedicated to preventing organized retail crime, such as smashing and robbery.