A new study estimates that U.S. retailers will lose $8.9 billion this holiday season to shoplifting, employee theft, and vendor and distribution losses, according to a new study by the Centre for Retail Research.
The revenue loss is expected to add about $98 to each family's holiday shopping costs, according to the report by the U.K.-based think tank.
The estimated $3.8 billion loss that the report attributes to general shoplifting would be a 4 percent increase compared to last year.
Citing "organized retail crime," Professor Joshua Bamfield, director of the Centre for Retail Research and author of the report, issued a statement saying the holidays are an especially busy time for shoplifters.
"Thieves take advantage of busy stores to steal high-value, high-demand goods," Bamfield said.
Meticulously planned capers by savvy crews of shoplifters are a new trend in theft, according to the Indiana Retail Council. And the costs of large-scale shoplifting ultimately are passed on to the honest shopper.
"What we're seeing now is sort of the 21st century development in shoplifting," said Grant Monahan, president of the nonprofit trade association for retailers. "The new trend is organized retail crime, which is very serious, where groups of people are stealing from retailers. They will go in and create a distraction in the store and clean out entire shelves or take entire racks of clothing.
"These people are very clever. They know the retailer. They know how to essentially work around the system. This is a serious threat for retailers."
The Indiana Retail Council, which represents retailers in state government, has a more nuanced answer to the question of how much organized retail crime costs.
Monahan agreed that shoplifting costs retailers both in sheer loss of product and expenses incurred to fight theft.
"Here's the problem for retailers: Retailing is so competitive in the marketplace, and every retailer's battling for the attention of every customer. So in the real world, customers probably don't see the added costs as much as they would if the marketplace wasn't so competitive," he said.
"On paper, I think there's a genuine impact on prices but competition really forces retailers to look at all aspects of their store's operation, and they just can't simply pass along shoplifting costs in terms of higher merchandise. At some point the pressure finally builds and you do see prices impacted, but it just doesn't happen automatically or happen all the time."
Monahan said the shoplifting crews typically sell their stolen goods on the street as a livelihood or to finance drug habits.
Gary Sprinkle, a security manager based in Evansville, Ind., said organized retail crime is an ever-evolving enterprise taking numerous forms.
What should you do if you see someone you think is shoplifting?
Nothing unless you're sure, said Sprinkle. And even if you are, do not confront the individual or group you believe is stealing.
"You have to know for sure. And if you do, tell store management -- immediately," he said.
(Contact Thomas B. Langhorne of The Evansville Courier in Indiana at LanghorneTcourierpress.com.)