More than spirits are being lifted this holiday season.
During the four weeks leading up to Christmas, an estimated US$1.84 billion in merchandise will be shoplifted from retailers in the US, according to The Global Retail Theft Barometer. That is up about 6 percent from US$1.7 billion during the same period last year.
“They shoplift for Christmas gifts, they steal for themselves, for their family,” says Joshua Bamfield, executive director of the Center for Retail Research and author of the survey.
The crowded stores and harried clerks make it easier to slip a tablet computer into a purse or stuff a sweater under a coat undetected. However, higher joblessness and falling wages have contributed to an even bigger rise this year, with people stealing everything from necessities to luxuries they can no longer afford.
“It’s really a question of need versus greed,” National Retail Federation (NRF) senior adviser of asset protection Joseph LaRocca said. “People will rationalize what they are stealing: ‘Oh, I’m feeling the economy. I lost my job.’”
Some experts say shoplifters are stealing for reasons this holiday season that have nothing to do with economic turmoil. Among them, some do it for a rush or thrill. For others, it is about filling a void. Still others are trying to relieve anxiety, boredom or depression — all emotions that are particularly common during the holidays.
An estimated one in 11 Americans shoplift, according to the National Association of Shoplifting Prevention, based on research collected on people who enroll in its prevention courses.
Three-quarters of shoplifters are adults — equally men and women. More than 70 percent of shoplifters say their crime was spontaneous.
All the stealing translates into hundreds of billions of dollars in losses for retailers each year.
Theft of all kinds — including shoplifting, organized retail crime, employee theft and vendor fraud — cost retailers more than US$119 billion worldwide in the 12 months ending in June, up from nearly 7 percent in the same period last year. That is the biggest gain ever recorded by the center since it began the survey in 2007.
About 36 percent of losses come from shoplifting. Employee theft represents about 44 percent. Vendor theft and administrative error make up the remainder.
Several major chains declined to discuss their efforts to thwart the growing theft in stores by shoppers and employees. However, the NRF says big merchants are spending about US$11.5 billion a year to fend off losses.
The are trying to improve their technology, such as surveillance methods and tagging of merchandise with security devices. They are also working with competitors and law enforcement agencies more than ever by sharing more information, such as what criminals are taking and how they are targeting individual merchants.
Theft drives up retailers’ costs and those are often passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices.