Workers, bosses, and customers are all “paying a price” for pervasive retail theft, a New York Times columnist bemoaned.
Pamela Paul wrote about “the sad atmosphere of surveillance” she felt while shopping in San Francisco recently, feeling as though she was bothering shopkeepers because every item she wanted was hidden behind a locked cabinet.
“Walking from aisle to aisle pushing a series of buttons, I felt like an imposition on a pharmacy’s meagre staff. After a string of these requests, I left before securing everything I’d planned to buy. The whole experience felt bad: I was sorry for the shopkeeper, sorry for the employees, sorry for being there, sorry for not buying enough. I made no impulse purchases,” she explained in the opinion column.
Customers may become dissatisfied by heightened surveillance, but she claimed that the effects of theft on businesses and employees are far more significant.
In the past year, criminals have compelled stores like Old Navy, Whole Foods, and Nordstrom to abandon San Francisco’s downtown. Paul referenced NRF statistics showing that retailers lost an estimated $94.5 billion in 2021 as a result of shrinkage.
Workers become worried and “traumatised” when they operate in an environment where they are unable to stop thieves and the offenders are not held accountable, according to Paul.
“For a variety of reasons, police now seem less inclined to arrest shoplifters. In Chicago, for example, overall arrests for reported thefts dropped from a rate of about 10 per cent in 2019 to less than 4 per cent in 2022, according to Wirepoints, a right-leaning watchdog group. Of the nearly 9,000 reported retail thefts in Chicago in 2022, only about 17 per cent resulted in arrests, Wirepoints said. This apparent shift in policing priorities can put increased pressure on store security personnel and frontline workers to police their own stores, even when they are inadequately prepared to do so,” she explained.
Recently, workers at Lowe’s and LuluLemon made news after they were let off for confronting shoplifters in violation of corporate policy. Similar practices are in effect at many retailers, which the author claimed lowers staff morale.
Paul referenced recent research in which service workers claimed that these regulations caused them to feel “frustrated, angry, helpless, targeted, unmotivated, and uncomfortable” at work.
“It is not fair. They have restrained our powers. They have tied our hands. The criminals have all the rights, and we don’t,” one employee said in the study.
“It’s hard not to notice a shift everywhere,” Paul wrote. “Returning to New York City recently by train after an out-of-town trip, I emerged from Penn Station to pick up a few things in a nearby drugstore. When I walked in, the store was nearly empty, the shelves were mostly locked; no one responded when I pressed a button. It was a dispiriting welcome home and an unfortunate way to imagine first-time visitors encountering New York.”
According to the NRF, the scope and complexity of organised retail crime are expanding. Furthermore, it is turning violent.
“These concerns have grown in recent years, as criminal groups have become more brazen and violent in their tactics and are using new channels to resell stolen goods,” NRF CEO Matthew Shay said in their recent report.