Australia’s newest boom: shoplifting


Take this one straight to the pool room. Via New Daily:

Retail theft in Australia has soared with emboldened shoplifters, casual thieves and organised crime-backed ‘micro-gangs’ to blame, a new report has revealed.

Thieves are targeting everything from the latest tech goods, jewellery and perfume to baby formula – and it’s costing businesses big bucks.

Australian and New Zealand retailers reported a staggering $3.37 billion in crime-related losses in the 2017-18 financial year, The Australia and New Zealand Retail Crime Survey 2019 released on Thursday showed.

That figure represents an average loss of 0.92 per cent of a retail business’s total revenue, with thieving customers the overwhelming culprits.

Survey respondents attributed 57 per cent or $2.6 billion of inventory loss (termed ‘shrinkage’) in 2017-18 to shoplifting by customers, an increase of 16 per cent over the previous two years.

This was followed by employee theft, which accounted for 22 per cent – or $0.88 billion of shrinkage – then non-crime-related losses (15 per cent) and supplier fraud (6 per cent or $0.2 billion).

University of London criminologist Emmeline Taylor said shoplifters were increasingly emboldened as the risk of being caught was low.

“Thieves now tell me that it’s easy to get away with petty theft. Reward greatly outweighs the risk,” Dr Taylor said.

While many people think that retail theft is “a victimless crime” it “couldn’t be further from the truth”, Dr Taylor said.

“We calculate that $3.37 billion is enough to employ 85,000 supermarket checkout staff for a year.”

Most stolen items

Telecommunication stores suffered the highest average value of theft – estimated to be ‘more than $1000’ per incident, the report found, while supermarkets typically reported losses of ‘under $20’ per incident but occurring more frequently.

Smartphones and their accessories, clothing, cosmetics, vitamins and branded fashion goods were some of the most frequently stolen items.

Meat, baby milk formula, and face creams were the items most commonly stolen from supermarkets.

“Criminals are becoming more organised. There is a large resale market for goods including stolen food and champagne being sold to restaurants, and baby formula being sold to China as part of the ‘daigou’ phenomenon,” the report said.

SWIPERS: Self-serve checkout shoplifters

The introduction of self-serve checkouts – of which there are an estimated 325,000 terminals globally – are one of the factors believed to be contributing to the rise in shoplifting.

A study of one million transactions in the UK found losses incurred through self-serve technology payment systems totalled 3.97 per cent of stock, compared to just 1.47 per cent otherwise.

Self-serve checkout thieves have been termed SWIPERS: ‘Seemingly Well-Intentioned Patrons Engaging in Routine Shoplifting’.

The relatively low number of staff members assigned to watch self-serve checkouts has aided the increase of shoplifting and encouraged “casual thieves”, the report found.

“There might be just one team member taking care of 10 or 12 checkout counters. They’re easily distracted – from very basic stuff like picking up the baskets and putting them on the rack to technical glitches, where they have to manually operate it,” an anonymous female shoplifter said.

“These small distractions provide an opportunity to steal – and you find them a lot.”

An anonymous male shoplifter agreed.

“If we’re in a group my friend might be purchasing something and then someone else distracts the staff while we bag up the extra items,” he said.

“It’s an informal friendly distraction – you have to be fast about it.”

Employee safety fears and calls for crackdown

The rise in retail theft has left employees vulnerable, the report said.

This includes the trend of “micro-gangs” using “steaming” techniques – in which a small group of shoplifters, sometimes backed by organised-crime syndicates, storm a store together, overwhelming staff and terrifying staff and customers.

“Thieves are becoming more brazen. We have seen this in the recent ‘steaming’ technique used by gangs to overpower mobile phone shops in broad daylight, often intimidating staff and pushing customers out of the way to reach the stock,” Dr Taylor said.

Front-line retail workers often face violence and threatening behaviour, with 3906 retail robberies recorded during 2017, the report said.

Of these, 1585 of perpetrators were known to be armed, most commonly with a knife but also firearms and syringes have been used to threaten staff, the report said.

In 2017, 42 per cent (2004) of armed robberies took place in retail stores, with Victoria suffering the highest number (590), followed by New South Wales (398) and Queensland (309).

Verbal abuse and aggression towards staff are also becoming “increasingly problematic” in retail stores, the report said.

Supermarkets also continued to report threats of sabotage and product contamination.

In September, Australia’s strawberry industry was plunged into crisis after a number of incidents of sewing needles planted in the fruit were reported.

The report shows that “thieves have upped their game and retailers need to adapt to stay ahead”, vice president of retail loss prevention firm Checkpoint Australia Mark Gentle said.

Only 20 per cent of retailers said they were happy with law enforcement response to the rise in theft.

Mr Gentle called for a tougher stance on retail theft, saying that retailers had “lost confidence in law enforcement’s response to retail crime and this has allowed shoplifters to become bolder”.

“We need public awareness that we have a problem … If the penalties were strong, [people] wouldn’t do it.”

About the author
David Llewellyn-Smith is Chief Strategist at the MB Fund and MB Super. David is the founding publisher and editor of MacroBusiness and was the founding publisher and global economy editor of The Diplomat, the Asia Pacific’s leading geo-politics and economics portal. He is also a former gold trader and economic commentator at The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, the ABC and Business Spectator. He is the co-author of The Great Crash of 2008 with Ross Garnaut and was the editor of the second Garnaut Climate Change Review.