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What a Steal! 4 Surprising Facts About Shoplifting


In the three minutes it takes to read this column, 1,500 items worth roughly $200,000 will have been stolen from the shelves of U.S. retailers. 

Add that up and it works out to be about 25-thousand shoplifting incidents each hour, or more than 500-thousand each and every day.

With numbers like that, it’s easy to see why taking part in, and protecting your business from, shoplifting is such a huge problem --  especially this time of year when the stores are extra crowded.

But according to Nick Colas, the chief market strategist at ConvergEx Group, a global brokerage company based in New York, shoplifting is a crime that’s as prevalent as it is perplexing

1)   Age Matters More Than Gender

“Over the last five years, ten million people have been caught shoplifting,” Colas says in the attached video.  “They're about 75% adults, 25% juveniles,  and they’re equally split between men and women.”

Colas says he initially started his data analysis project to see if the rate of theft had gone up or down since the great recession of 2008, as he was hoping to discover a conclusive link between this type of crime and the overall economy. 

What he found was that apprehension for shoplifting by individuals has soared, by 90 percent in the past 5 years, while the number of so-called “inside jobs,” or thefts by employees, has remained fairly stable, growing just four percent to 71,000.

2) Apprehension is Way Up

“Before the great recession, you had about 600,000 people apprehended for shoplifting each year.  Last year, it was over a million.“     

By comparison, Colas says, during that same period of time, the rate of employee apprehension rose just 4 percent. It’s important to note, Colas says, that the average value of merchandise stolen by individuals is currently $129, but over $700 when it’s an inside job.

3)  But Getting Caught is Way Down

Whether you ask retailers or the actual shoplifters themselves, it’s clear that this is a crime that is not only widespread, but is also quite lucrative. Even though Colas says only three percent of shoplifters claim to be so-called professionals (that is stealing stuff only to re-sell it), those that do get caught say they have shoplifted an average of 48 other times when they didn’t get caught. 

He says the industry uses slightly less gloomy theft-to-apprehension figures, but even then it’s about a 30-to-1 ratio.

4) Thieves As Consumers?

Of course, paying customers are what it’s all about in the retail business, but Colas says the busiest stores with the most sought after merchandise are also the ones that suffer the most at the hands of shoplifters. 

“If you have done your floor-set correctly and have the right assortment at the right time,” he says, “you’ll see a little more theft as well.”

Colas says it is misleading to assume that shoplifting apprehensions have nearly doubled because the economy is still weak.  He says issues like better surveillance and tagging technology are at least partly responsible, but points out that societal and psychological conditions like stress and depression also play a role.