by Carrie Soderberg
He is brazen, I will give him that. I am standing less than a metre from a fellow in David Jones who has just dropped a packet of Pop-tarts into his empty shopping bag. As he saunters away, I feel conflicted. Should I tell someone?
It may only have been Pop-tarts, but it all adds up. According to the Australian Retailers Association, retailers lost an estimated $7.5 billion to theft in 2011. That’s up from $6.8 billion in 2010 and $4.5 billion in 2006.
“It is a huge concern, “says, Russell Zimmerman, National President of the Australian Retailers Association. We look at those losses and ask how high will that figure go to in 2012?”
In New South Wales, statistics from the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics show more than 20,685 people were caught shoplifting last year. Over the past five years, there has been a three per cent increase in recorded incidents.
Russell Zimmerman says it is no coincidence that shoplifting is on the rise. “Usually in times of economic slowdown you tend to find an increase in retail theft.”
Surprisingly one of the most popular items among thieves seems to be razors and batteries.
“Many shoplifters are opportunists and we see an increase in theft of necessities. People will steal things to make themselves feel good when times are tight. But we also see more gangs targeting retail shops,” he says.
With theft accounting for about three per cent of total retail sales, retailers are doing what they can to keep shrinkage to a minimum. Many stores are fitted with security cameras and in some shops uniformed officers and covert security staff patrol the floors.
Mohamed Issa, from Australia Protection Security, works as a retail security guard for a major computer and electronics retailers and a discount chemist. Part of his job includes checking bags, keeping an eye on shoppers in the store, making sure the alarms are working, and greeting customers. Over the years, he has seen it all.
“You would be surprised at the type of person that steals, and it is not always people who are in need. Clearly a USB stick, or at the chemist, an eyeliner or a nail polish are not a necessity.”
Mr Issa says a lot of people walk out of the store without paying. “They give it a go. Once you ask for the receipt, they say they forgot to pay. It happened with a guy walking out with a 42 inch TV on a trolley the other day.”
Headphones are often targeted by thieves. “Customers will open the packaging at the back of the store, put them on and just walk out,” he says.
Many customers get offended by the bag checks, but Mr Issa says the store is allowed to check a bag if it is bigger than A4, or if he sees someone stealing.
The worst excuse he’s ever heard? “My son did it.”
A father blamed his four year old son for stealing a USB stick. “It was too high up and too well concealed to be the work of a toddler, “Mr Issa says.
So why do people steal? Dr Anthea Fursland, Specialist Clinical Psychologist at the Centre for Clinical Intervention in Perth, says that apart from poverty there are a number of reasons.
“Some people do it just for the thrill of it, others like to see what they can get away with,” she says.
And some people shoplift because they feel a sense of entitlement.
“When people have a heightened sense of entitlement, they feel they have a right to do bad things. And that overrides logical sense of honour and legality. They tell themselves they work hard for their money and are entitled to it, thinking the shop will not notice, “she says.
For some people, stealing is part of an impulse control disorder like kleptomania, an inability to resist the urge to steal objects that are not needed.
“But it is not always kleptomania. A lot of people with bulimia will steal food because they do not want to ask parents for food.”
With Christmas around the corner, retailers are looking forward to a spending rush among customers. Russell Zimmerman says crowded shops create more opportunities for thieves.
“It is harder for retailers to pick up on theft when there are a lot of people around. Gangs who target certain stores will take advantage of this. No stores are exempt from it. Retailers will always keep looking for more ways to limit that amount of theft,” he says.
In the end, I dobbed in the Pop-Tart thief. Security staff were on his tail as I left the store.