Survey offers insight into how pandemic affected shoplifting


A US survey has offered an insight into how the pandemic impacted retail theft, with the number of incidents decreasing, but the value of each rising in 2020.

Meanwhile, retailers that were deemed ‘essential’ in the US experienced a moderate spike in both shoplifting and employee theft.

Although these statistics are focused on the US retail sector only, they may provide a clue to the shoplifting trends Australia encountered in a year like no other.

Here’s an insight into the Jack L Hayes International Annual Retail Theft Survey and what it found…

Fewer US shoplifting incidents and employee thefts

Covid played havoc with US retail throughout 2020, resulting in temporary shop closures in many American states.

As would be expected, that resulted in fewer incidents of both shoplifting and employee theft.

Even so, over 184,000 shoplifters and dishonest employee were apprehended in 2020 by just 22 large retailers. In total over $81 million was recovered.

The survey further found:

  • shoplifting apprehensions were down 43.8 per cent and recovery dollars decreased 36.5 per cent.
  • In total, 158,158 shoplifters were apprehended by the 22 major retail chains surveyed.
  • Dishonest employee apprehensions decreased by 20.3 per cent and recovery dollars were down 17.2 per cent.
  • In total, 26,463 dishonest employees were apprehended.

A spike in thefts for essential retail

That said, shoplifting in the retail sectors deemed ‘essential’ experienced an increase of 7.9 per cent while employee theft also rose 2.7 per cent.

Rise in theft value

While the number of shoplifting and theft incidents was down, the value of each event increased significantly.

In terms of total thefts, each event averaged $440.48, which was up 19.2 per cent on the year prior.

Meanwhile, shoplifting events averaged $310.11, which was an increase of 13 per cent and employee thefts averaged $1,219.61 (up 3.8 per cent in 2019).

The true cost of theft

The survey also took the time to dive a little deeper into how much was lost compared to how much was recovered.

“For every $1 recovered by our surveyed companies, $33.15 was lost to retail theft. Therefore, only 2.9 per cent of total retail theft losses resulted in recovery,” they noted.

This figure is based on the assumption that annual retail sales of the participating companies were $508 billion and the average shrink rate was 1.62 per cent of sales according to the US National Retail Federation’s 2020 National Retail Security Survey.

The reasons behind shoplifting increases and decreases


Those stores which experienced a shoplifting increase cited the following reasons:

  • ORC (Organized Retail Crime) continues to be a primary factor
  •  Fewer stores to choose/steal from.
  • Saw significant increase in “theft for need”
  • Legislation increasing felony thresholds embolden thieves
  •  More ‘hit n run’/fleeing shoplifters

Meanwhile, those that noted a decrease in incidents attributed it to the following:

  • Store closures resulted in fewer shoppers
  • Transition to deterrence/recovery during the pandemic
  • Closing of fitting rooms for extended periods of time
  • Focused on better customer service
  • Less LP/AP staff due to restructuring or transition

You can find the full Annual Retail Theft Survey here, or see our top tips on loss prevention in Australian retail.