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Shoplifting Around U.S. Is Down, Despite Widespread Theft Narrative

Shoplifting around the U.S. is generally lower than it was a few years ago, despite news outlets and retail chains amplifying stories of widespread theft, the New York Times reports. The increase in shoplifting appears to be limited to a few cities, rather than being national. There are some exceptions, particularly New York City, where shoplifting has spiked. Outside New York, shoplifting incidents in major cities have fallen 7% since 2019, before the pandemic. Various sources of crime data tell a consistent story. Retail theft has not spiked nationwide in the past several years. If anything, it appears less common in most of the U.S. than before the pandemic. Overall, shoplifting incidents were 16% higher in the first half of 2023 than the first half of 2019. When New York City is excluded, however, reported shoplifting incidents fell over the same time period. Among 24 cities, 17 reported decreases in shoplifting.


The shoplifting problem “is being talked about as if it’s much more widespread than it probably is,” said Sonia Lapinsky, a retail expert at the consulting firm AlixPartners. Other data indicate that shoplifting is not up in most cities since 2019. Retailers’ preferred measure, called shrink, tracks lost inventory, including from theft. Average annual shrink made up 1.57% of retail sales in 2022, up slightly from 2021 (1.44%) but down compared with 2019 (1.62%). The FBI and the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that theft and property crime ticked up in 2022 but remained below pre-COVID levels. The current focus on shoplifting is part of a broader trend: The public often overestimates crime. Over the past two decades, most Americans have said that crime is rising, according to Gallup’s surveys. In reality, crime rates have generally plummeted since the 1990s.


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