Retailers across the U.S. will start this holiday season about $4 billion in the hole.
And that’s just to cover the Grinches who shoplift Christmas.
It’s an industry reality: As the number of shoppers rise during the holidays, so do the number of shoplifters walking the aisles.
Some steal for gifts. Some to eat. Some do it for drugs. Some for the sheer thrill.
They take everything they can, from candy bars to sound bars. Sometimes they stuff it in their coats, sometimes inside their underwear. Sometimes they just put it in a cart and stroll out the door.
Annual theft costs U.S. retailers more than $120 billion, according to the Global Retail Theft Barometer. And that number is only bolstered by end-of-the-year holiday surges.
Retailers will lose $3.8 billion in merchandise during the holidays alone, according to a recent study by the Centre for Retail Research, a U.K.-based research organization.
“Without a doubt, this is the busiest time of the year for shoplifting,” said Brimfield Township Police Chief David Oliver.
Some of Brimfield’s more odd shoplifting stories are noted in the Brimfield Police Department’s Facebook page, which has more than 92,000 followers.
There’s the thin woman emerging from Walmart looking fatter than Santa Claus. There’s the man with baggy pants running through the store’s parking lot leaving a trail of fallen DVDs in his wake.
There’s also the mother who used her young children to push their cart of stolen goods out the front door.
Some shoplifting stories have even made it into Oliver’s new book, No Mopes Allowed.
But it’s the holidays, when gifts are needed, money is tight, emotions are high and coats are more likely to be worn, that shoplifting arrests rise.
“Our busiest months for shoplifting is December, October and November,” Oliver said. “The months have never changed.”
The shoplifting statistics are staggering on a national level, according to research by the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention, a nonprofit organization providing research-based shoplifting prevention initiatives.
The organization estimates more than $13 billion in merchandise is stolen each year, or more than $35 million per day. The thefts are committed by 27 million shoplifters, the group found. They estimate there are more than 10 million people detained for shoplifting in the last five years.
Couple those theft numbers with shopping statistics, and one realizes why the shoplifting numbers rise this time of year.
According to the National Retail Federation, about 140 million people say they plan to or will shop Thanksgiving weekend.
In response to the shoplifting epidemic, retailers spend nearly $11.5 billion for loss prevention, according to the NRF.
They do this knowing that more often than not, shoplifters succeed.
Still, some individual stores have been known to budget hundreds of thousands of dollars for shoplifting losses.
Law enforcement often works with retailers to curtail the problem.
Often stores are equipped with dozens of cameras monitored by loss prevention officers, who also walk the merchandise aisles.
Thieves get creative
Paul Gramlich, a Brimfield police officer, worked five years as a loss prevention officer for Walmart. He remembers the holiday seasons as a time when larger crowds would provide better cover.
“It was crazy. Crazy busy,” he said. “And it’s bizarre. Pretty much any way you think and ways you would never think of to steal. People do it and they do it on a regular basis.”
More and more, people are stealing to feed their drug addictions. Oliver said he’s even come across shoplifting suspects carrying a list of items to steal as requested by their drug dealer.
Electronics always seem to be popular Christmas items for shoplifters. But studies have shown toys, alcohol, women’s clothing, perfume and fashion accessories are also popular choices.
Not all shoplifters caught in the act will face criminal charges. Some stores will not prosecute, but instead add the person to a list of people banned from entering the store.
“I think for them it’s a civil liability concern,” said Copley Township Police Chief Michael Mier. “From a PR standpoint, they just prefer to ban somebody so they don’t come back to the business anymore.”
In Fairlawn, home of the Summit Mall, Police Chief Kenneth Walsh said the department maintains a list of people barred from entering particular stores because of past thefts.
In the event someone violates the ban, police could charge the suspect with criminal trespassing.
Walsh said shoplifting is a constant battle for stores, regardless of the calendar.
“There’s shoplifters year round,” he said.