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Theft: The New Zealand retail industry’s $1.3 billion problem

  • In association with ServiceIQ
  • March 29, 2016
  • Elly Strang
Theft: The New Zealand retail industry’s $1.3 billion problem

Despite the invention of savvy new technologies to prevent crime, $1.3 billion is still lost per year to retail crime in New Zealand.

The internet is brimming with tips and preventative strategies for retailers, but this exchange of information goes both ways.

Police have said tips and advice on how to steal from New Zealand shops are being discussed online after five travellers were arrested for stealing from The Warehouse in Blenheim.

The shoplifting epidemic

Judging by the news recently, the issue has reached a boiling point for retailers.

Earlier this month, The Warehouse made headlines for its decision to seek compensation from shoplifters. It issued a “civil recovery notice” to two foreign visitors that shoplifted at its stores and asked for $275 in compensation.

The Warehouse Group spokesperson Julia Morton told Stuff shoplifting costs retailers dearly, and the company didn’t want to pass that cost onto its customers.

Retail NZ general manager of public affairs, Greg Harford, says the organisation advises its members to take all the action they can against shoplifting, including seeking reparation.

He believes civil recovery notices are legal.

If online commentary is anything to go by, consumers were fully in favour of The Warehouse’s decision and wanted the people to pay for their crimes.

The stress of the ongoing shoplifting problem has also caused mistakes to happen.

Another situation that arose earlier this month was a 19-year-old woman being wrongly accused of shoplifting a pair of shoes that went missing from a Glassons store.

The woman, Christina Victor, said the way it was dealt with by several staff left her feeling humiliated to the point of tears.

Dealing with crime after it happens

It’s important staff know how to behave after a shoplifting incident has occurred.

Harford says in order to prevent situations where a customer is embarrassed or upset, it’s best to have evidence or an eye witness to back up the claim.

“It’s always prudent to have witnessed a theft or checked CCTV footage before approaching a customer. Retailers do want to get this right, and mostly they do.”

This will help staff eliminate the risk of staff jumping to conclusions based on any conscious or subconscious prejudices, creating situations such as racial profiling.

Instead, staff should be on the lookout for suspicious behaviour.

Retailers can better prepare their staff for these situations through education, such as ServiceIQ’s ‘Introduction to preventing theft and fraud’ online training course.

It covers how to identify crime and and ways to take action, offering help with identifying common shoplifting methods like concealment; using children; switching price tags; blocking and distraction.

Minimising crime before it happens

Another way to tackle the problem is to try to decrease the risk of shoplifting occurring before it happens.

Reading insider tips on how to shoplift on sites will also help retailers get into the mind of thieves and how they get away with it.

The Register couldn’t track down conversations directly referencing Kiwi retailers, but there are sites offering general tips and tricks for shoplifters. These include this Reddit thread or this Tumblr site.

Some excerpts from these sites include:

  • Someone detailing a big haul they stole over Easter when a department store was busy. “Take away, the best time to hit is when stores are busy and staff is pre-occupied.”
  • Someone talking about stores that are in liquidation or closing down and the lack of attention paid to shoplifting. “For all of you who have never had the experience from lifting from a store that's closing it's fantastic, essentially a free for all.”
  • Someone talking about the importance of accomplices. “A plan my friends and I typically use is to have 2 (or more) people go in, but one person stays clean and doesn’t take anything. You walk out at the same time and in the event that you just plain suck at Commandment II and an alarm goes off, you keep walking and the “scapegoat” stays behind looking confused and all that acting jazz.”

Harford’s advice on the three most important things retailers can do to minimise crime includes store design, security measures and communication.

He says retailers should:   

  • Have a store layout that allows employees to monitor customer activity around the store.
  • Have highly visible security measures and signs to alert would-be criminals that the security measures, such as CCTV, are in place.
  • Share information about suspicious activity with neighbouring retailers and the Police.

With all this in mind, hopefully this will put a dent in the $1.3 billion problem retailers and shoppers are paying for.

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