U.S. retailers add cameras, steel cables to deter holiday crime

NEW YORK, November 23 (Reuters) – Retailers going from Walmart (WMT.N) a Barnes & Noble are installing cameras or locking items away to deter thieves and thieves as they prepare for a rush of post-pandemic holiday shoppers this year.

Some, including Walmart, JC Penney, and Walgreens (AMB.O), install new surveillance systems or more security guards. Others, like Target (TGT.N) and Barnes & Noble, merchandise sealed behind Plexiglas or tethered to store shelves with steel cables.

The retail industry has denounced 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 hit at a time of the highest inflation in 42 years. And now, with the rising cost of preventing crime, that will translate into higher prices,” said Burt Flickinger, director retail general. consulting firm Grupo de Recursos Estratégicos.

The effect on Christmas sales and profits “will be horrible,” he added. “Today you can see that shampoos are locked up, along with acetaminophen, Tylenol and multi-packs of toothpaste under lock and key…people who plan to shop in stores will not want to go into these locked stores and with excess security.Therefore, retailers generally miss out on both planned purchase and impulse purchases.”

Crime has been in the spotlight since a series of brazen and violent store robberies, including a “smash and grab” incident during the holiday season last year where 80 people rushed into a Nordstrom near San Francisco and ran off with piles of merchandise, injuring five. employees. A poll by the National Retail Federation (NRF) cited a 26.5% increase last year in “organized retail crime” carried out by groups of people.

But it’s not clear whether overall retail crime in the US is rising, and little data is available on the problem. Total shoplifting, theft, fraud and error losses for US retailers in 2021 held steady at an average rate of 1.4% of total sales, as it had been for the previous five years.

Still, retailers are diverting more resources to safety this quarter, which could increase pressure on margins already squeezed by higher gas, transportation, labor and raw material costs.

Part of the problem is that prosecuting misdemeanors is a hassle, and some states have raised their thresholds for the value of stolen merchandise to around $1,000 to trigger a felony charge.

That puts responsibility for crime prevention first, especially over Thanksgiving weekend which is expected to see a Record Buyer Engagement. The busy holiday season accounts for nearly 20% of total US retail sales for the year.


A sign of the times can be seen in the small communities of Paducah, Kentucky and Opelika, Alabama, where Walmart, JC Penney, Walgreens (AMB.O) and other major retailers have incorporated large mobile surveillance units that record all activity in their parking lots.

Walmart, for example, said it has nine surveillance units outside three large Supercenter stores in both cities.

The units, provided by LiveView Technologies as part of a pilot program, provide 24-hour live video feeds to retailers so they can alert authorities to any suspicious activity, Paducah Police Chief Brian Laird said. They also have flashing strobe lights and speakers to warn would-be thieves that their actions are being watched.

Other retailers have focused their anti-theft efforts inside their stores. A Target in White Plains, New York, for example, stocked all of the Ulta Beauty (ULTRA.O)
cosmetics behind locked plexiglass.

At a Barnes & Noble in the Galleria Mall in White Plains, American Girl ‘Wellie Wisher’ dolls are chained to shelves with electronic ties. At another Barnes & Noble store in Manhattan, customers have to take empty Lego boxes to the cashier and receive the pieces after their purchase.


Major consumer products companies like Procter & Gamble are upset, as are shoppers.

P&G said last week it is investing in in-store displays to prevent its razor blades from getting stuck in the glass casing, as shoppers complain that blocked displays and cords slow them down and force them to find staff. that can release the merchandise.

“Target has a new feature!” wrote TikTok user @manifest_makeup in the caption of a video shared in September with her 20,000 followers. “Now everything is behind glass like Walmart!”

Rex Freiberger, a 40-year-old Los Angeles resident, says he has noticed “more and more items” placed behind Plexiglas at Walmart, where he buys holiday gifts.

“The thing that bothers me the most about having so many items behind closed doors is when stores don’t have enough workers on the floor to help open those doors,” he said.

Retailers rarely openly acknowledge the threat of theft or crime because they generally don’t want to scare off shoppers.

But Target said last week that it saw a “precipitous decline” in discretionary spending and revealed that the 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 made last year.

“Along with other retailers, we’ve seen a significant increase in retail theft and organized crime in 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 team members safe.”

Additional reporting by Doyinsola Oladipo, editing by Deepa Babington

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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