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Stores are locking up everyday goods. Is organized retail theft on the rise?

Socks, cold medicine, even deodorant. Going to Target or CVS these days to grab essentials is a little more complicated as retailers lock up everyday goods in an effort to curb shoplifting. It’s enough to get shoppers frustrated and wondering “Is all this really necessary?”

Just how much shoplifting and organized retail crime is hurting stores is somewhat up for debate. Target announced last week that it is closing nine stores due to theft and organized retail crime. The corporation said Oct. 21 will mark the last day in business for some stores in Seattle; Portland Oregon; Oakland, California; San Francisco; and the Harlem neighborhood of New York City.

“We cannot continue operating these stores because theft and organized retail crime are threatening the safety of our team and guests, and contributing to unsustainable business performance,” Target said in a press release. “We know that our stores serve an important role in their communities, but we can only be successful if the working and shopping environment is safe for all.”

Some are skeptical — including one Walgreen’s executive who said retailers might have overreacted to shoplifting last year. But the National Retail Federation released data last week that shows the amount of merchandise lost to theft, fraud and damages went up from $93.9 billion in 2021 to $112.1 billion in 2022. 

These numbers might indicate there is a problem, even if crime statistics don’t show the same. Eric Piza, professor of criminology and co-director of the Crime Prevention Lab at Northeastern University, said a lot of cities don’t participate in the FBI’s new crime reporting system that the agency switched over to last year. The new system is meant to collect information on criminal incidents, but Piza said only about 40% of police departments have participated since it was introduced, meaning the NRF numbers might paint a better picture of how bad theft is affecting businesses.

Read more in Northeastern Global News.

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