(Adds details about guards at Apple stores, Walmart shooting)
By Siddharth Cavale and Arriana McLymore
NEW YORK, Nov 23 (Reuters) – Retailers from Walmart to Barnes & Noble are installing cameras or locking items to deter shoplifters and thieves as they prepare for a post-pandemic rush of holiday shoppers this year.
Some, including Walmart, JC Penney, Apple Inc. and Walgreens, new surveillance systems or more security guards in place. Others, like Target and Barnes & Noble, sealed merchandise behind plexiglass or attached it with steel cables to store shelves.
The retail industry has written off theft this holiday season as it struggles with excess inventories and a pullback in consumer spending at a time of high inflation.
“Sales are being suppressed. Profits are being punished at a time of the highest inflation in 42 years. And now that the cost of preventing crime is going up, that’s going to be passed on in higher prices,” said Burt Flickinger, managing director at retail consulting firm Strategic Resources Group.
The effect on holiday sales and profits will be “terrible,” he said. “Today you can see that shampoos are locked up, as well as acetaminophen and Tylenol and multipacks of toothpaste are locked up … people who intend to shop in stores will not want to go into these locked and oversecured stores. So overall retailers lose out. between the intended purchase and the impulse buys.”
Crime has been on the rise since a spate of brazen, violent store robberies — including a “smash and grab” incident during the holiday season last year in which 80 people rushed into a Nordstrom near San Francisco and made off with armfuls of merchandise, which injury five. employed. One survey by the National Retail Federation (NRF) reported a 26.5% jump last year in “organized retail crime” committed by groups of people.
But it’s unclear whether US retail crime overall is on the rise, and little data is available on the problem. Total losses from shopping, theft, fraud and errors for US retailers in 2021 remained steady at an average rate of 1.4% of total sales, as in the past five years.
Still, retailers are diverting more resources toward security this quarter, which could put pressure on margins already squeezed by higher costs of gas, transportation, labor and raw materials.
Part of the problem is that petty crime is easier to prosecute, and some states have raised their thresholds for the value of stolen merchandise to around $1,000 to trigger a felony charge.
This puts the onus on preventing crime in the first place, especially during the Thanksgiving weekend which is expected to be attended by large numbers of shoppers. The busy holiday season accounts for nearly 20% of total US retail sales for the year.
SURVEILLANCE LIGHTING AND SROBE
A sign of the times can be seen in the small communities of Paducah, Kentucky, and Opelika, Alabama, where Walmart, JC Penney, Walgreens and other major retailers have introduced large mobile surveillance units that record every activity in their parks. .
Walmart, for example, said it has nine surveillance units outside three massive Supercenter stores in the two cities. One of the retailer’s stores in Virginia on Tuesday was the scene of the latest mass shooting in the United States, when a manager opened fire and killed six people before turning the gun on himself.
In Paducah and Opelika, the units provided by LiveView Technologies as part of a pilot program provide 24-hour video footage to retailers so they can notify authorities of any suspicious activity, said Brian Laird, Paducah police chief. They also have flashing strip lights and loud speakers to warn would-be thieves that their actions are being carried out.
Other retailers have focused their anti-theft efforts within their stores. For example, Target in White Plains, New York, put all Ulta Beauty cosmetics behind locked plexiglass.
At Barnes & Noble in the Galleria Mall in White Plains, American ‘Wellie Wisher’ dolls are stocked with electronic attachments. At another Barnes & Noble store in Manhattan, customers have to carry boxes of empty Lego sets to cashiers and retrieve the pieces after purchasing them.
Major consumer products companies like Procter & Gamble are upset – and so are shoppers.
P&G said last week that it is investing in in-store displays to prevent its razor blades from getting stuck in glass cases, and shoppers complain that the locked displays and cables slow them down and force them to find a team that can fix the article for free.
msgstr “The target has a new feature!” TikTok user @manifest_makeup captioned a video shared in September to her 20,000 followers. “Everything is now behind glass just like Walmart!”
Rex Freiberger, a 40-year-old Los Angeles resident, says he’s noticed “more and more items” being put behind plexiglass at the Walmart where he shops for holiday gifts.
“The thing that bothers me the most about those things being behind locked doors is when there aren’t enough workers on the shop floor to unlock those doors,” he said.
Retailers rarely openly acknowledge the threat of theft or crime because they usually don’t want to scare off shoppers.
But Target said last week it had seen a “sharp decline” in discretionary spending and revealed that theft could wipe out more than $600 million in gross profit this year. That represents nearly 2% of the $31 billion in gross profit it earned last year.
“As with other retailers, we have experienced a significant increase in theft and organized retail crime across our business,” Target CEO Brian Cornell told investors on a Nov. 16 conference call.
“As a result, we are making significant investments in training and technology that can deter theft and keep our guests and store staff safe.”
Apple began posting plainclothes security guards at its stores more frequently in recent weeks after thieves at some locations stole iPhones right out of employees’ hands, a person familiar with the matter said.
At one store in the United States, an undercover guard walks the floor during the five busiest days of the week, up from two or three days a week a few months ago, the source said.
(Additional reporting by Doyinsola Oladipo in New York, Paresh Dave in San Francisco Editing by Deepa Babington)