Retail thefts have ballooned in the last few years, creating a multibillion-dollar problem for retailers and forcing companies to take drastic action to protect from lost profits.
Numerous pharmacies, grocery stores and other retailers have shortened store hours or been forced to close permanently as locked-up merchandise becomes commonplace to protect against shoplifters and smash-and-grab thieves.
“It has to do with all the shoplifting,” a Walgreens clerk told Fox Business last month on why ice cream freezers were secured with chains and locks.
Crime has weighed heavily on retailers across the country, costing businesses about $94.5 billion, the National Retail Federation reported last month. It has affected businesses large and small, with Target reporting a 50% increase in shoplifting incidents last year, accounting for a whopping $400 million in losses.
A new report released by DealAid, which was provided to Fox News Digital, found that more than 80% of retailers across the country have seen an increase in violence associated with theft last year. Some 56% of small retail businesses experienced theft in the last year, and 46% of small businesses had to increase prices due to shoplifting losses, according to the report.
Beyond installing more private 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 announced a crackdown on power tool thefts, with a new process that would leave the items virtually unusable after they’re stolen. A new initiative called “Project Unlock” will utilize RFID chips and scanners to activate power tools when they are purchased.
If a power tool is stolen and not activated at check-out, it will not turn on.
“Over the last few years, theft — driven largely by organized groups — has risen for the entire retail industry,” Lowe’s said in a December 2022 video announcing the initiative. “The net result has been locked-down store experiences that penalize customers.”
“We think there are better ways to curb theft than locking products down.”
Home Depot started a similar initiative last year to protect its power tools.
But for many other retailers, locking merchandise down remains the main response to the crime surge — especially in cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York.
“Everyone is locking everything up. 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 such as help buttons that customers hit when they need an employee to retrieve something from a locked cabinet, and according to Budano, business boomed by 40% last year.
Customers at some pharmacies and big-box stores have seen everything from candy to mascara to nasal spray under lock and key in recent months, sparking frustration.
“I always found it difficult to find a staff member to come unlock them,” Roger Evans of Arizona told Insider last month about why he stopped shopping at Walgreens and CVS to purchase razors. “The drugstores have been perpetually understaffed.”
Although the security helps prevent theft, it risks losing customers due to the added wait time for a store clerk to come and unlock a cabinet or product, critics said. Budano estimated that retailers typically see a 15% to 25% drop in sales over customers refusing to purchase a locked-up item, opting to buy online or at a different store instead.
Some smaller stores that sell high-end merchandise, such as jewelry, have moved to operate on an appointment-only basis.
In New York City earlier this month, a jewelry store was targeted by masked smash-and-grab thieves who stole up to $2 million in gems in less than one minute.
The Brooklyn jewelry store will operate on an appointment-only basis until it installs more security measures. It’s a tactic Madison Avenue shops on the Upper East Side used last year to combat daytime shoplifters, the New York Post reported in April.
Small business owners who don’t have the funds of a national chain are getting even more creative to protect their inventory.
A Houston, Texas, bar owner told Fox News’ “Fox & Friends” this month that he’s been sleeping in his restaurant to protect against burglaries.
“This is a major issue with our city right now,” Cobo’s BBQ owner Raul Jacobo told co-host Carley Shimkus. “If I’m frustrated … based on these burglaries, I could just imagine how families feel that they’ve actually lost loved ones because certain criminals are put back out on the street.”
“It’s just a very frustrating situation… all around… we have no choice but to sleep in our establishments just to protect what’s ours,” he added.
In Philadelphia, a gas station owner hired private security guards who wear Kevlar vests and are armed with AR-15s or shotguns to protect the establishment.
Shoplifting and organized retail theft are likely not about to disappear from stores this year, experts said.
The study published by DealAid shows that organized retail crime increased by 26.5% last year, but the vast majority of retailers, about 68%, do not have departments dedicated to preventing organized retail crimes, such as smash-and-grabs.