Shoplifting is out of control, reports the center-left news source Axios, reaching “crisis proportions”:
Shoplifting has gotten so bad nationally that chains like Rite Aid are closing hard-hit stores, sending terrified employees home in Ubers and locking up aisles of seemingly mundane items like deodorant and toothpaste.
Why it matters: Retailers are already reeling from the pandemic, supply chain woes and the labor shortage. Now they’re combating systematic looting by organized crime gangs — which are growing more aggressive and violent.
- “It’s out of control — it is just out of control,” Lisa LaBruno, SVP of operations and innovation at the Retail Industry Leaders Association, tells Axios.
- A lot of the uptick is tied to the ease of reselling stolen goods online, plus the fact that consumers are buying more everyday goods online during COVID.
- “We have experienced a 300% increase in retail theft from our stores since the pandemic began.” CVS spokesman Michael DeAngelis tells Axios.
At a Rite Aid that just closed its doors in midtown Manhattan, more than $200,000 in goods were stolen in December and January, per the New York Post.
- “They come in every day, sometimes twice a day, with laundry bags and just load up on stuff,” the Post quoted a store employee saying.
The big picture: The problem is made worse by flash mobs like the 80 people who stormed a Nordstrom in San Francisco in November, and organized retail crime groups that often hire homeless people and drug addicts as “boosters” to do the dirty work.
- Store shelves aren’t the only places getting hit: Warehouses and cargo trucks are also in the crosshairs.
- Teams of “boosters” will throng a store with laundry bags, grabbing what they can and assaulting workers who confront them — sometimes fatally.
Details: One Bay Area crime ring stole $8 million in merchandise from CVS, Walgreens and Target stores.
- Another one ripped off a staggering $50 million in goods — mostly health and beauty products that thieves stockpiled in a warehouse.
- “More than $1.6 million in razor blades alone were recovered,” per Loss Prevention Magazine.
What stores are doing: In addition to locking high-theft items behind anti-theft panels, retailers are arming more merchandise with alarmed security tags. They’re installing shelf sensors that can tell when a customer has been browsing for a suspiciously long time, and adding “smart” shopping carts with wheels that lock if someone sneaks it past the cash register. But too many locks can frustrate honest shoppers — potentially sending them into the arms of an Amazon.com instead of the corner store.
Last year, Fox News reported that smash-and-grab looters targeted stores across the country as Thanksgiving approached, and over the Black Friday weekend. They pillaged stores of thousands of dollars in merchandise and killed a security guard in Oakland as he tried to protect a news crew who were reporting on the crimes.
“We tried to stop them,” said Home Depot employee Luis Romo. He described how a “flash mob” targeted a Home Depot in Lakewood, California, on Black Friday. “We closed the front entrance and they put their sledgehammers up and whoever got in the way, they were going to hurt them.”
The crew of eight robbers stole hammers, crowbars and other tools. Such tools have been used in other smash-and-grab robberies in California, including a Nordstrom in Walnut Creek last week.
Five thieves stole $25,000 worth of designer purses from a Nordstrom store in a Los Angeles mall on the eve of Thanksgiving. A big group of robbers entered a Bottega Veneta in Los Angeles’s Beverly Grove neighborhood on November 26, and used chemicals against an employee who tried to stop them as they stole high-end merchandise.
Later that day, the Los Angeles Police Department went on a citywide tactical alert. The alert has since ended.
Near Minneapolis, a large group of at least 30 people targeted a Best Buy, while a dozen or so thieves, including juveniles, targeted another Best Buy in Maplewood, Minnesota. None of the thieves has been arrested.
A former Target executive lamented “this growing trend” to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “It is definitely a tough problem to solve, given the organized nature and number of people involved in many of the incidents,” he said.
The robberies turned deadly in California, when an Oakland security guard was shot and killed during an armed robbery while protecting a news crew that had come to the site to cover a previous smash-and-grab theft.
“It is with the deepest sadness that I let you know security guard Kevin Nishita has passed away,” said Mark Neerman, KPIX’s news director. “He died protecting one of our own, a colleague reporting on the very violence that took his life. I know you join me in sending condolences to his family and in sending thanks to Kevin for standing up for us all.”
He was shot in the abdomen during an attempted robbery of a TV station’s camera equipment on Wednesday and later died from his injuries.
A wave of smash-and-grab robberies afflicted California over the last week, with most of the robberies occurring in stores near San Francisco and Los Angeles. In Walnut Creek, which is located in the San Francisco region, roughly 80 looters stormed a Nordstrom and stole up to $200,000 in merchandise.