Myth Vs. Fact: The Truth About Organized Retail Crime

Retailers continue to face the complex challenge of organized retail crime and its impact on stores and communities. Unfortunately, a few recent stories have suggested the problem has been overstated, some have even suggested retail crime has gone down.  

It’s time to set the record straight, end the debate over whether or not this is a problem, and continue work on solving it.

MYTH: Organized retail crime is only a problem in some big cities. 

FACT: Unfortunately, criminals and bad actors don’t discriminate when it comes to targeting stores, and organized retail crime is happening in red states and blue cities—it shouldn’t be a political talking point.

RILA has partnered with the National District Attorneys Association (NDAA) to connect retailers with prosecutors nationwide to support ongoing efforts to combat retail crime at the local level. Participants in this initiative represent big cities like San Francisco, New York City, Dallas, and Atlanta, but also suburban communities like Akron, Ohio; Salem, Massachusetts; and Platte City, Missouri. Retail crime is a nationwide challenge that should not be dismissed based on politics or geography. Prosecutors of both political stripes know this is a problem impacting public safety and the vibrancy of communities all across the country.  

MYTH: The problem is not that bad, and police data suggests shoplifting has gone down

FACT: Tracking this data is notoriously difficult. For starters, getting an accurate measure of retail theft depends on both retailers and law enforcement reporting the activity. We know due to myriad factors, this doesn’t always happen. For example, one recent report cited by the New York Times based on police data showed a 31% drop in shoplifting incidents in Seattle; what it failed to contextualize is that the Seattle police department is also down 600 officers. Responding to retailers’ shoplifting calls has become a lower priority and statistics don’t capture this unfortunate trend, making the number of incidents significantly underreported from what is experienced by local retailers. That same cited report acknowledges as much in its introduction: “Because these data rely on reported incidents, they almost certainly undercount total shoplifting.” Furthermore, when law enforcement is unable to respond in a timely and regular fashion, retailers simply don’t report incidents unless there is an act of violence. This makes citing police data highly unreliable when measuring the actual scope of retail theft in a community. 

Seattle is not alone in this area.  Police forces across the country have reported recruitment and retention issues, stretching the ability of local law enforcement to respond to incidents of retail theft.  Its why retailers have invested significant resources in theft deterrent technology, physical deterrence, and other security measures in recent years to combat the problem.  

Bottom line, there is a wide gulf between the retail crime incidents that are “publicly reported” in any given jurisdiction and the actual number of incidents experienced by local retailers.  Furthermore, research and data can only carry so much weight. Retailers are listening to their associates who express concern with workplace safety; they’re listening to customers frustrated with bare shelves and store closures. Nuance or context is often missing from statistics.  And the impact on real people can never be fully articulated by a number.  

MYTH: Retailers only care about their bottom line. Retail theft is just a scapegoat for failing to address larger issues.  

FACT: Retailers recognize that theft and associated violence are often symptoms of larger societal issues like addiction, homelessness, and mental health. In addition to taking steps to make the shopping experience safer in stores, retailers are partnering in their communities with law enforcement, social service organizations, and more to address these issues. Retailers are committed to reducing unlawful activity in and around retail environments, reducing recidivism, and restoring vibrancy to communities. 

RILA’s Vibrant Communities Initiative (VCI) launched this year with the objective of identifying and tackling issues that contribute to the increase in crime, violence, vagrancy, and blight in and around retail environments, business districts and communities across the country. Through this work, leading retailers are engaging directly with law enforcement and other relevant stakeholders to share best practices, deploy innovative technology solutions, and work together to address local persistent challenges. The industry is ultimately working toward the development of a national framework for addressing these issues, informed by two pilot projects currently underway.  

MYTH: Retailers are exaggerating the theft problem and using it as an excuse for poor financial performance.

FACT: Retailers have weathered myriad challenges over the past few years—a pandemic, wild demand fluctuations, and supply chain disruptions to name but a few.  Retailers have weathered these challenges with the continued goal of serving every community.  

Organized retail crime and habitual theft is a problem that has grown over time, and its impact is about much more than quarterly results.  Retailers would not be locking up product, spending billions on theft deterrent technology, deploying more security guards, closing stores in high crime areas and partnering with state attorneys general, Homeland Security and local prosecutors to address theft if it wasn’t a significant, industry-wide problem. 

It would be disingenuous to say that retailers aren’t concerned with how this problem is affecting the balance sheet. Of course, they are. But what matters more is ensuring that the areas in and around their stores are safe for employees and customers. That’s why retailers are ringing the alarm about this issue and investing time and resources to addressing it. 

  • Asset Protection
  • Organized Retail Crime

Stay in the know

Subscribe to our newsletter