How COVID affected retail theft

The data is in and while reported incidents of shoplifting and employee theft declined in 2020, the value of each incident increased.

According to the 33rd Annual Retail Theft Survey by Jack L Hayes International, over 184,000 shoplifters and dishonest employee were apprehended in 2020 by just 22 large retailers. In total over $81 million was recovered.

Here’s a breakdown of what the survey showed…

Fewer shoplifting incidents

With Covid lockdowns seeing much of the retail sector closed temporarily during 2020, there were fewer reported thefts.

Last year, shoplifting apprehensions were down 43.8 per cent and recovery dollars decreased 36.5 per cent.

In total, 158,158 shoplifters were apprehended by the 22 major retail chains surveyed.

Meanwhile, dishonest employee apprehensions decreased by 20.3 per cent while recovery dollars were down 17.2 per cent, and in total, 26,463 dishonest employees were apprehended.

That said, shoplifting in the retail sectors deemed ‘essential’ experienced an increase of 7.9 per cent while employee theft also rose 2.7 per cent.

Incident value increased

Incident value increased

While the number of shoplifting and theft incidents was down, the value of each event increased significantly.

In terms of total thefts, each event averaged $440.48, which was up 19.2 per cent on the year prior.

Meanwhile, shoplifting averaged $310.11, which was an increase of 13 per cent and each employee theft averaged $1,219.61 (up 3.8 per cent in 2020).

The true cost of theft

The survey also took the time to dive a little deeper into how much was lost compared to how much was recovered.

“For every $1 recovered by our surveyed companies, $33.15 was lost to retail theft. Therefore, only 2.9% of total retail theft losses resulted in recovery,” they noted.

This figure is based on the assumption that annual retail sales of the participating companies were $508 billion and the average shrink rate was 1.62 per cent of sales according to the 2020 National Retail Security Survey.

The reasons behind shoplifting increases and decreases

The reasons behind employee theft increases or decreases

Those stores which experienced a shoplifting increase cited the following reasons:

  • ORC (Organized Retail Crime) continues to be a primary factor.
  • fewer stores to choose/steal from.
  • Saw significant increase in “theft for need”.
  • Legislation increasing felony thresholds embolden thieves.
  • More ‘hit n run’/fleeing shoplifters.

Meanwhile, those that noted a decrease in incidents attributed it to the following:

  • Store closures resulted in fewer shoppers.
  • Transition to deterrence/recovery during the pandemic.
  • Closing of fitting rooms for extended periods of time.
  • Focused on better customer service.
  • Less LP/AP staff due to restructuring or transition.

The reasons behind employee theft increases or decreases

In terms of employee theft, retailers which experienced an increase attributed it to the following:

  • More focus/attention towards associate theft.
  • Improved technology/analytic tools resulted in more DE cases.
  • Fewer associates in-store created more opportunities for dishonest employees.
  • Increase in loyalty card fraud.
  • Increase in discount abuse cases.

Those who enjoyed a decrease cited the reasons listed below:

  • Store closures and furloughed associates.
  • Less focus on apprehensions and more focus on pandemic issues.
  • Better prevention with additional technology at POS.
  • Reduced travel by LP/AP staff.
  • Decrease in LP/AP staff due to restructuring or transition

You can find the full Annual Retail Theft Survey here, or see our top tips on loss prevention.