Store Theft In The US Jumped 8.8% Last Year

Maybe this is why stores seem to be getting more and more aggressive about shoplifting: CNN says that retail theft in the US jumped 8.8% over the past year, versus only 1.5% in the prior year. But you may be surprised (only if you’ve never worked retail) to see where most of the theft occurs.

The Center for Retail Research surveyed 1,069 large global retail companies, then identified trends in 41 different countries. In the United States,

Employee theft cost merchants about $18.7 billion in the period, shoplifting cost sellers $15 billion, and processing and other supply chain errors or fraud cost retailers about $6.8 billion.

CNN framed the story by repeating a scary sounding estimate that the cost of these crimes to consumers is about $435 per family over the past year. That sounds pretty crazy, but it also sounds like a threat, or an empty promise: “If you people wouldn’t be such hooligans you could have cheaper things!”

Here’s what I think is far more newsworthy: Employee theft, supply chain errors, and other fraud cost merchants $25.5 billion last year. Theft on the consumer side—and remember, some of that is performed by organized professional criminals—accounted for $15 billion. Yeah, it’s still a huge number, but when your own employees are stealing costing you over one and a half times that, maybe you need to re-think your crime-stopping strategies.

“Store theft cost to your family: $435” [CNN]
(Photo: Gastev)


Edit Your Comment

  1. agb2000 says:

    Two thoughts:

    1. Employers that pay their employees above the average pay for their labor worry less about employee theft.

    2. One of the largest forms of employee theft is not theft of inventory or money, but of time. And time theft doesn’t figure into the “shrink” calculation above – making employee theft an even larger problem than this article implies.

    • varro says:

      @agb2000: “Time theft” ? Funny how it isn’t considered “work theft” or “slavery” when companies chisel employees by declaring prep time or dressing in protective clothing time unpaid or not paying time-and-a-half for overtime.

  2. DaveDidNotPay says:

    “your own employees are stealing over one and a half times that”

    So supply chain errors and other fraud is considered employee theft even though employee theft is listed separately?

  3. bobloblawsblog says:

    well if its costing us $435 per family, i better start shoplifting. I don’t want to be the idiot with nothing to show for it!

    • AndroidHumanoid says:

      @bobloblawsblog: Booyahkah!!!

    • Hazel-rah says:

      @bobloblawsblog: This is apparently what happened with my universities meal plans.

      We had a system where for most cafeterias you paid a “meal” at the door, and it was all you can eat. So they considered taking food out as theft to the same degree taking utensils and trays would be.

      Out of this, as part of the fee was a 75$ theft charge per person for things stolen (it was never clear whether it was for expected theft, or the previous year).

      And of course this caused everyone to feel that if they’re going to be charged 75$, they might as well take it themselves. And thus began the entitled liberation of trays to make sleds from, cutlery/plates/bowls for personal use, water bottles filled with pop, and pockets of cookies and muffins. The first week a group managed to walk off with a giant tub of ice cream (think all you can eat buffet, as deep as your arm) as a frosh weak prank.

      This fee goes up by 10$-20$ a year.

      Can you see where this is going?

  4. Snarkophagus says:

    When I worked retail, my store cycled through three general managers in four years because they kept bringing in crooks.

    Not saying I’m disappointed that they opened promotion opportunities for me, but there was always more concern internally over employee theft than shoplifting.

  5. bohemian says:

    It would be interesting to break down the various excuses retailers have used for increasing prices along with the estimated cost associated with that.

    Shoplifting, higher price of gas, higher commodity prices and whatever else they have used to raise prices.

  6. Michael Belisle says:

    The theft amounts are all of the same order of magnitude. It’s not like one is billions of dollars, while the other is tens of thousands. An effective shrink strategy should focus on all three.

    When I worked at Best Buy, there wasn’t any lack of emphasis on any of these three types of shrink. And even if stores were placing a greater emphasis on customer theft than employee theft, could that not suggest that relative value of customer theft is lower because the emphasis is working?

    I can understand the point behind wanting less focus placed on law-abiding customers, like for example the myriad concerns about receipt checks. But in order to say that receipt checks aren’t working, one would need some data that shows that receipt checks aren’t working, not some data that shows that employees steal more shit.*

    * Note that an auxiliary or perhaps even primary purpose of receipt checks is to catch cashier errors. Hey! Now we can show that errors + shoplifting > employees => receipt checks for everyone! Clearly the problem addressed by receipt checks is a larger one than employee theft.

    • sqlrob says:

      @Michael Belisle: Except receipt checks don’t work. I’ve gone out with more items in the cart than on one receipt because of either having to ring up at separate registers or mistakes that needed two transactions. Still only show one receipt, still never stopped.

      • StanTheManDean says:


        How do you “know” the receipt checking did not work? Did you steal something and not get caught? Were others detered from trying?

    • Chris Walters says:

      @Michael Belisle: I’ll admit, I was flippant there at the end when I accused stores of not focusing on the “real” problem. It’s all equally a problem, and I’m sure they do focus on it.

      I used the report as an excuse to haul our our receipt checking whipping boy so I could flog him some more, but really the first thing I thought of when I read this was that retailers alone can’t reverse a trend like this, since the rate of financially-motivated crimes–and possibly more violent crimes too, at least according to the SciAm article linked below–increase as the economy suffers.

      Cut unemployment, increase the buying power of the dollar, and generally improve people’s faith that there’s a positive economic future for them, and you’ll shift a lot of those on the edge back over into law-abiding citizen status.

      (I do suspect that retailers pay the wrong employees the most money and/or don’t use organizational transparency effectively to prevent the formation of corrupt “sheriffs” who steal with impunity, but I have zero info to back that up. I would just like to see someone try it and then measure their internal theft rates. Someone give me millions so I can open a store!)


      [] <– the paragraph with the phrase “criminal-motivation continuum” is a good one

      • Lez Lemon says:

        @Chris Walters: Oh man, I worked at Tim Hortons when I was a teenager. Raises every year were at least $0.10. I’d been working there for months, when a new girl started who they loooooved. I got the $0.10 raise, she got a “much” bigger one (it was probably a quarter, but anyway).

        Then they discovered she’d been stealing from the cash. Good times. Man I hated that place. I’d cry before shifts.

  7. james says:

    Mr. Belisle seems to be unable to wrap his head around the data – the losses stated are the losses with (and despite) practices like “receipt checks” in place, so clearly the shrinkage problem has not been solved by nonsense efforts like receipt checks.

    Here’s a way to reduce customer pilferage – provide staff to assist customers! The customer being helped by a paid employee is not going to be able to shove items in their poickets, are they?

    Likewise, well-paid employees will value their jobs and not be so stupid as to risk losing that good job by stealing some consumer product or other.

    It wasn’t so long ago (1950s) that my father was able to support a wife and a baby with no employment other than a job at a hardware store. As a clerk. He owned his own home, paid a mortgage, and bought new cars every so often. On the salary paid him by a hardware store.

    My how things have changed.

    • Cant_stop_the_rock says:


      Only a fool would try to reach a conclusion about the effectiveness of receipt checks based on the data in this article.

    • temporaryerror says:

      @james: I’ll bet he was MUCH more helpful than your average employee at Lowes of HD too…

    • Skipweasel says:

      @james: Didn’t you ever wonder /how/ he was able to afford all those things on a clerk’s wages?

    • Blueskylaw says:


      Things have changed.

      He didn’t have to pay for a new dishwasher, family plan cell phones with early termination fees, cable with 10,000 channels, broadband internet, credit cards with 30% interest rates, banks that nickel and dollar you to death. He probably had a pension too.

      The expenses of a household back then was much less because they lived a simpler life.

  8. LJKelley says:

    I’m still curious as to who they know who stole what? So if a CD goes missing? Did it break and get thrown in the trash? Did a customer steal? Did an employee steal?

    I mean, how do they know for sure who steals what? It just sounds like more air out of someones… well a fart.

    • tonberryqueen says:

      @LJKelley: As far as your CD example, speaking as a former record store clerk, it’s usually obvious when a customer steals it. At least for small-time (single item, let’s say) theft, someone will tear off the plastic, cut open the case with a razor, and either rip out the security tag, or just take the disc. You will then find the plastic with either the bent up security tag or the empty case shoved into a bin. (The good thing about these single item thefts is that, since the thief is usually trying to work something open quietly with a razor, you will see them hanging around somewhere and rapidly moving their half-hidden hands. Or you’ll just see the razor and tell them to get out.)

      With bigger thefts (i.e., grabbing a stack of something), they usually set off the gate. Even if they don’t, when you walk past a bin, notice a giant hole, and then check your inventory and see that you’re missing 20 copies of something, you’ll know.

      Employee theft is often more something like pilfering things from a used buy before it gets wrapped and put on the floor.

  9. colorisnteverything says:

    I knew of a person in my town who once stole $22,000.00 in 3 months from his place of business – just because.

    I can’t imagine it. He stole LARGE things – like tractor parts, fence paneling, etc. It was just weird. But yeah, I was told by a friend who was an attorney that this was rarely a strange thing and that he had seen several of these cases come through in the past year. So, my guess is that this is not too abnormal.

  10. bookstoreguy says:

    Most retailers focus their LP on internal issues, external is a nice afterthought. I truly believe that internal theft is a huge problem as I’ve seen many people fired for it over the years, though I also understand that it’s simply easier to find/prosecute internal DBags than exteral DBags. External cases are much more difficult to deal with as the burden of proof is harder to attain and requires much more effort to prosecute. Initiating a case on an employee requires an investigative interview and presentation of your evidence to an employee, often resulting in a confession. It’s easy to ask an employee how the opened and scratched beyond readability Eminem CD ended up in their back pocket as they have less rights then a customer. It’s quite hard to ask a customer how the brand new, wrapped in plastic Josh Groban CD ended up in their backpack with store #, receive date and security tag printed on it. It’s just easier to prosecute internal! I’ve watched enough asshole customers steal to know, the burden of proof is too hard for most retailers to actually deal with. It’s easier to kill em with kindness and hope they get annoyed with you enough to leave the store then to actually confront them when they steal. That said, I can’t wait to bust the next AHOLE employee and/or customer stealing from my store! I also can’t wait for the handcuffs…they just make me happy!

  11. Decubitus says:

    Two ideas (not original, I’m sure), comments welcome:

    1. Cameras over the cashiers, with random audits. You have people review video alongside computer data that shows what is being rung up. Shouldn’t be hard to see cart full of products go out that doesn’t go with the receipt.

    2. RFID, with sensors at each checkout and at every exit of the store. If an RFID is read at an exit without having been read previously at a checkout, sound an exit-specific alarm, with the exact item description sent to LP over text message.

    You might even be able to tie the stolen RFID item to a credit or debit card by using the other items that are read at the same exit, or at least get the checkout lane where the other paid for items were read. So if an employee scans one DVD at the checkout but somehow manages to get 20 DVDs in the cart, that one DVD will tie the stolen ones back to the employee and possibly customer.

    Yes, these two ideas would cost, but how much would they save if employees and customers were more worried about getting caught?

    • kateblack says:

      @Decubitus: They would not save a store as much as they would cost it when honest customers stopped shopping there because we don’t appreciate being tracked like criminals.

  12. temporaryerror says:

    I was behind a guy in the cashier’s line at Sams and he had a cart full of folded clothes and bulk boxed items in his cart, and the cashier must have pulled a dozen DVD’s out of various boxes and folded clothing… I got the impression it was a internal test to see if the cashiers were checking purchases as thoroughly as they were supposed to but it was still interesting.

    • theblackdog says:

      @temporaryerror: I knew a guy who worked at Sam’s Club over a holiday season, and yes they do test their cashiers that way. He caught everything except for checking the TV box to see if it had been opened (they had slipped a DVD inside the TV box)

  13. bjdhtgjvbhdgd says:

    Back when I was working minimum wage, I made it a point to steal from my boss every time the boss treat me like garbage and every time I saw this boss rip off customers. Just small stuff, things that the boss never inventoried, trinkets with an absurd markup.

    A word of advice for all those assholes bosses out there, maybe you won’t have to cheat customers just to stay in the black if you’d do simple things like keep track of your inventory and treat your employees like humans.

    • TheKuudere says:

      @Method of Steepest Descent: Wow. If you hated the job so much, why not just quit and work somewhere where you’re treated better? Did you hate your coworkers also? Because your practice of two wrongs make a right harms them as well.

      If I were treated badly by a manager, I would file a complaint with the human resources department, who is required to follow up on it. In fact, I did do such a thing when one manager caused my coworker to cry in front of me. After being spoken to about it, the manager was a lot nicer to everyone, since her job now depended on it.

      Your excuse is a poor excuse and shows something about your character. You couldn’t think of a resolution to your problems that didn’t involve theft.

    • bwcbwc says:

      @Method of Steepest Descent: Yet another motivation for the stealing. But just because most rape comes from anger rather than lust doesn’t mean it isn’t rape.

      Enjoy your ill-gotten gains.

      • bjdhtgjvbhdgd says:

        @bwcbwc: I’m not going to pretend that I acted honorably back then. It was wrong and I shouldn’t of done it. I was poor and good jobs were hard to come by. I needed that job to make the minimum payments on my credit card, on which I was charging my rent.

        I tried several times to talk to the owner and reason it out, but to no avail. We continued to get dumped on and customers still got ripped off. I took a few trinkets from a thief and a liar. I was able to shield my younger coworkers from a lot of this abuse. My karma is still in positive territory.

        Don’t you dare compare what I did with rape. Am I a Nazi too? Lets try keep things in perspective.

  14. Silversmok3 says:

    The reason internal theft is so massive in retail is because of one thing-knowledge.

    An employee can not only steal from the company, he or she can do so while also bypassing the internal controls meant to prevent the very theft in the first place.

    So while a customer can steal maybe one PS3, an employee ( or group of employees too) can steal SEVERAL PS3s form the company before being caught. And by that time the retailer has lost thousands of dollars, from just 1 or two people.

    • theblackdog says:

      @Silversmok3: There was theft in a restaurant I worked at simply because the manager knew how to manipulate the cash register so he could pocket the money. He only got caught because he messed up one night and pocketed money from a credit card purchase instead of a cash purchase, and so the batch didn’t match up.

      Of course, he had been one of the owner’s favorites, so they were unhappy when he had to be fired.