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Retailers Struggle with Shoplifting, Employee Theft

Retail theft is a problem, and while many corporations are frustrated, they’re not doing enough to solve it, Vox reports. Shrink, retail-speak for missing inventory that may have been stolen by outside parties or its own workers, damaged, or just plain lost, is inevitable. According to the National Retail Federation, the average shrinkage from 2021 to 2022 taken as a percentage of sales, increased from $93.9 billion to $112.1 billion in losses. That’s a big number that workers say companies could take more steps to bring down by more hiring. “If they had better sales coverage, a lot of this stuff wouldn’t happen, or if they didn’t have such high turnover,” says a Walmart worker in Baltimore. He says new cashiers often fall for scams with gift cards at the register because they haven’t been properly trained, and self-checkout aisles go woefully under-watched because the store doesn’t have the budget to staff them. “All these companies that are screaming about theft, they’re kind of complicit in it because they keep reducing staff,” says Steven Rowland of The Retail Warzone podcast and a former retail store manager.


Companies can be quick to blame shrink on external theft, but it might be employees who are stealing, or merchandise that’s lost in transit. It’s difficult to estimate exactly how much it would cost companies to combat shoplifting, but many retailers say that they are spending more to combat theft than they have in the past. In its 2022 annual report, Home Depot said that combating shrink and theft and keeping stores safe requires “operational changes” that could increase costs and make the store experience worse for customers and workers alike. It’s not even clear exactly how much money is being spent to fight theft right now, explains Jeff Prusan, a security and loss prevention consultant. Retailers don’t generally disclose the data, payroll increases vary by retailer and job purpose (employee versus loss prevention specialist versus private security guard), and the amortization of long-term security solutions, such as cameras and alarms, can be complicated to factor in. “There are so many variables in these situations that it is difficult to quantify,” he says. There’s no strong consensus about what would really work, investment-wise. And loss prevention doesn’t bring in revenue, it’s just an expense.

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