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US retailers taking steps to address thefts at stores

By MAY ZHOU in Houston | China Daily Global | Updated: 2022-10-05 09:41

Deputies seized two minivans full of large plastic storage bins stolen from a Home Depot in Georgia last month. Inside the bins, were stolen tools and batteries, according to the Fox station in Atlanta. The deputies discovered 47 items totaling more than $9,000 worth of merchandise.

"The individuals who put the items in the totes, sealed the totes, put them in a shopping cart, and then go by all points of sale. Once they passed all points of sale, they would run to their vehicles, put the totes in their vehicles, and then flee the area," Coweta County Sheriff's Deputy Antonio Vives said.

Investigators said five people were responsible for thefts at various Home Depot stores across the nation, totaling more than $300,000 in merchandise.

In August, twin brothers from Round Lake, Illinois, were sentenced to four years in prison for stealing almost $1 million worth of products from Home Depot stores in more than 20 states.

Michael Miotke and John Miotke, 45, were suspected of making fraudulent returns of 313 cases of vinyl flooring, 238 pressure washers, 164 snowblowers and 237 lawn mowers.

Court documents show that they would buy products and put them in their car. Then they would head back to the store and pick the same products for return with their legitimate receipts.

Retail theft has been a big problem for the industry. About $69.9 billion worth of products were stolen from retailers in 2019, according to data from the Retail Industry Leaders Association.

Retail theft increased when the stores reopened following lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic. The newly released 2022 Retail Security Survey by National Retail Federation shows that 74 percent of survey respondents reported that store theft — not including organized retail crime — has increased compared with five years ago.

Retailers also lose a lot of money to organized retail crime, which has increased. The survey show that 52.9 percent of survey respondents reported increased incidents of such crime while none reported decreases in organized retail crime.

Some governments also have increased the threshold or value of good stolen to constitute a felony. The survey found that the majority — 70.8 percent — of respondents reported either a moderate increase (36.6 percent) or substantial increase (34.2 percent) in organized retail crime case values in areas that increased felony thresholds.

In California, Proposition 47 in 2014 reduced theft of goods valued at less than $950 from a felony to a misdemeanor, which some politicians have attempted to repeal.

Home Depot has been locking up more products during the past year while testing more customer-friendly, higher-tech solutions, reported The Wall Street Journal.

"It's a triage-type scenario. It's stop the bleeding and give yourself some time," Scott Glenn, vice-president of asset protection at Home Depot, told the Journal.

Glenn said that overall theft attempts at Home Depot continue to rise compared with before the pandemic. After a high-theft item is locked up, sales gradually go up because the store stays more consistently in stock, Glenn explained.

He also said that in stores where Home Depot has aggressive theft deterrents, loss has been reduced.

A Best Buy store in the suburbs of Houston has replaced items such as Bose speakers and Fitbit activity trackers with small blue signs reading ,"This product kept in secured location," the Journal reported. Shoppers must ask store workers for help in locating the merchandise.

As a large retailer of high-value electronics, Best Buy has long locked up some products. Across all US stores, less than 5 percent of the company's products are locked up or in back rooms for theft-protection reasons, about the same percentage as previous years, Damien Harmon, executive vice-president, told the Journal.

Harmon said Best Buy Best Buy started using a tactic last winter as retail theft jumped. The company replaced some products on shelves with QR codes. Shoppers could scan, then head to registers to pay and pick up the product.

According to the National Retail Federation, in 2021, the top metropolitan areas most affected by organized retail crime were Los Angeles, San Francisco/Oakland, New York, Houston and Miami.

In some locations, including the Best Buy in Houston, where many local stores face elevated levels of crime, the share of locked items can be higher.

Some stores in New York City even lock up items such as toothpastes and canned food.

"For a store to be locking things up like toothpaste, Spam or honey, they would have had to have been repeatedly targeted over a period of time," Ben Dugan, director of organized retail crime at CVS Health and president of the Coalition of Law Enforcement and Retail, told the Journal.

Rite Aid CEO Heyward Donigan told analysts on a Sept 29 earnings call that the drugstore chain "experienced unexpected headwinds this quarter from front-end shrink (shoplifting), particularly in our New York urban stores".

The company said a $5 million year-over-year increase in "shrink" — or losses related to theft, fraud or administrative errors — had cut into profits, the New York Post reported.

Chief Retail Officer Andre Persaud said New York City-area shoplifting losses had increased despite attempts to improve "product protection".

Heng Weili in New York contributed to this story.

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