US retailers add cameras, steel cables to deter holiday crime

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NEW YORK – Retailers ranging from Walmart to Barnes & Noble are installing cameras or locking away items to deter shoplifters and thieves as they brace for a post-pandemic rush of holiday shoppers in 2022.

Some, including Walmart, JC Penney, Apple and Walgreens, put in place new surveillance systems or more security guards. Others, like Target and Barnes & Noble, sealed merchandise behind plexiglass or tethered it with steel cables to store shelves.

The retail industry has decried theft this holiday season as it struggles with excess inventories and a pullback in consumer spending at a time of high inflation.

“Sales are suppressed. Profits are being punished at the time of the highest inflation in 42 years. And now with the cost of preventing crime going up, that’s going to be passed along in higher prices,” said Burt Flickinger, managing director at retail consulting firm Strategic Resource Group.

The effect on holiday sales and profits “will be horrific”, he added. “Nowadays, you can see shampoos are locked up, along with acetaminophen and Tylenol and multipacks of toothpaste locked up… People planning to shop in stores will not want to go in to these locked and over-secured stores. So overall, retailers lose both the planned purchase and the impulse purchases.”

Crime has been in the spotlight since a spate of brazen, violent store thefts, including a “smash and grab” incident during the holiday season in 2021 where 80 people rushed into a Nordstrom near San Francisco and ran out with armfuls of merchandise, injuring five employees. One survey by the National Retail Federation (NRF) cited a 26.5 per cent jump in 2021 in “organised retail crime” carried out by groups of people.

But it is unclear whether overall US retail crime is on the rise, with little data available on the problem. Total losses from shoplifting, theft, fraud and errors for US retailers in 2021 remained steady at an average rate of 1.4 per cent of total sales, as it had been over the previous five years.

Still, retailers are diverting more resources towards secu...

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