Australian retailers are collectively losing an estimated $3.37 billion each year to theft and other crime, amounting to almost 1 per cent of the industry’s collective annual revenue.
“The Australia and New Zealand Retail Crime Survey” — the first of its kind by Aptus Research — examined the experiences of retailers with a combined 9,000 stores and annual turnover of around $95 billion last financial year.
The research, sponsored by Checkpoint Systems and conducted in conjunction with Profit Protection Future Forum ANZ, found that crime-related losses in the sector added up to $3.37 billion.
More than half (57 per cent) was attributed to customer theft of goods. Among the biggest losers to customer theft, the report found, are:
- Telecommunications stores, which have the highest average value of items stolen, estimated at more than $1,000 for each incident.
- Supermarkets, which most commonly see meat, face creams and baby formula swiped from shelves. It said the value of these losses tended to be less than $20 per incident, but thefts are becoming more common.
Other findings from the report are that self-service checkouts are particularly vulnerable to theft, which is leading retailers and supermarkets to install more video analytics and cameras at checkouts to track every transaction at each machine.
Meanwhile, thieves are becoming more organised in their efforts, it said, with a “large resale market” emerging for stolen goods including baby formula being sold into China, as well as stolen champagne and food being sold to restaurants.
It also noted the emergence of “micro-gangs” collaborating to “brazenly raid shops during operating hours”.
According to the report, retailers are overwhelmingly dissatisfied with the response from police and law enforcement authorities. Just one in five retailers said they were happy with the response to rising instances of theft.
Two-thirds of retailers admitted they feel under-resourced to tackle the problem due to “the diverse and sophisticated ways that criminals are now targeting retailers”.
Easy to get away with theft
Lead researcher Dr Emmeline Taylor, of the University of London, said thieves are finding it easy to get away with stealing common goods.
“Thieves now tell me that it’s easy to get away with petty theft. Reward greatly outweighs the risk,” she said.
“There are multiple factors that could be contributing to this, including the introduction of self-service checkout and changes in criminal behaviour.
“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.”
The idea that theft is “easy” is not a new one. Last year, former detective turned security expert for a US retailer Skip Myers said that he had found the same thing, adding that the ease of stealing from a store and getting away with it is a major motivator for many.
At the time, Mr Myers urged businesses to “get pissed off that someone can do this to your company and fight back”.
From the latest research, Dr Taylor added that there is a general misconception that retail is “a victimless crime”, and that particularly larger retailers build anticipated losses into their profit margin anyway.
“But it couldn’t be further from the truth. We calculate that $A3.37 billion is enough to employ 85,000 supermarket checkout staff for a year,” she said.
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