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Retail Theft Changes Shopping As More Items Are Locked Up

Across the retail landscape, businesses have been putting more items under lock and key as a quick way to stop thieves, reports the Associated Press. Some are considering extreme measures, including Rite Aid Corp., whose chief retail officer Andre Persaud told analysts said it is considering “literally putting everything behind showcases to ensure the products are there for customers who want to buy it.” It’ also may use off-duty police officers at some of its stores. By trying to solve one problem, businesses may be creating another: turning off shoppers with overreaching measures. “Everything has changed. We used to be catered to,” said Sheila Schlegel, 43, of New York City. Now, “if you’re coming to the store, there’s one person at that store, and that person you can tell has been there for 15 hours,” said Schlegel, who once waited for a sales clerk to unlock an item only to be told he didn’t have the key. For consumers of color especially, the stepped-up security measures risk alienating a population that already feels overpoliced. That could unravel some of the inroads that chains like CVS, Sephora, and Walmart made in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder in 2020 when they promised to avoid racially biased practices like locking up products only for Black customers. Walmart said that its position of not locking up beauty products for women of color remains the same. Target confirmed it was locking up more products but instead of targeting certain items, it locks up entire categories.

It’s unclear how much money retailers lose due to organized retail crime or if the problem has substantially increased. The issue has received more notice as high-profile smash-and-grab retail thefts and flash mob robberies have had national media attention. The National Retail Federation said its latest security survey of roughly 60 retailers found that inventory loss -- called shrink — clocked in at an average rate of 1.4 percent last year, representing $94.5 billion in losses. The greatest portion of shrink, 37 percent, came from external theft, including products taken during organized shoplifting incidents, the trade group said. It said retailers, on average, saw a 26.5 percent uptick in organized theft incidents last year. While high theft in stores depletes inventory and limits sales, locking up items reduces sales 15 to 25 percent, says Joe Budano of Indyme, a technology company that sells retailers security devices. John Catsimatidis, who owns the New York supermarket chains Gristedes and D’Agostino’s, said the chain has locked up more products like aspirin and deodorant in the past year. His chains have also doubled the number of security guards at some stores. He acknowledged that the move has resulted in some lost sales from impulse shopping but the added security has made shoppers more comfortable and has helped reduce theft.


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