Shoppers who pilfer a pack of gum or pocket a pair of earrings aren’t exactly pulling off a master heist, but their crimes have an impact all the same. Every year, retailers lose $17.6 billion to shoplifting, according to data from the National Retail Federation (NRF). Thieves make off with roughly $377 worth of merchandise per incident.
While all retailers must confront the problem of sticky-fingered shoppers, people like to steal certain things more than others. Worldwide, accessories, jewelry, cosmetics, and denim are among the most stolen items. Gourmet cheese, infant formula, and housewares are also frequently shoplifted, according to Checkpoint Systems’ 2016 Retail Holiday Season Global Forecast.
Shoplifting is an issue year-round for stores, but it’s especially pernicious around the holidays. In the U.S., 37% of annual losses due to shoplifting come in the fourth quarter. The incidence of theft, along with the value of stolen items, increases as stores put out large displays of expensive merchandise and more people hit the malls to shop — or steal.
A small number of shoplifters are professional criminals who plan to fence their stolen goods, according to the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention, but in most cases the theft is a crime of opportunity. As far as methods, shoplifters often make off with their contraband the old-fashioned way – concealing it in a shopping bag or leaving the dressing room with a few extra layers of clothes. But new technology is making it even easier for people to steal. A recent study found that roughly 4% of stuff in shoppers’ baskets isn’t scanned when people use self-checkout systems. Some items may go unscanned because of innocent mistakes, but people might also be taking advantage of the honor system to score freebies, the report speculated.
The most frequently shoplifted items vary considerably by country, the Checkpoint report found. In France, people are most likely to help themselves to champagne, foie gras, and mushrooms. In Japan, cashmere and leather clothing tended to vanish from store shelves, while in Portugal, people walked off with luxury food and makeup. Shoplifters in the United Kingdom preferred to steal booze. In the U.S., shoppers were most likely to steal the following four items.
At specialty clothing stores, shoplifting accounted for 41% of all inventory losses, slightly higher than the national average of 39%, according to an NRF report. But that number is actually 9% lower than it was in 2014.
Clothing shoplifters are often good customers. “We were taught that our prime shoplifters were women and girls who were regular shoppers at Anthro,” a former Anthropologie employee told the New York Post. “They would spend insane amounts and at the same time steal a few items because they felt that given they had spent so much money, they were entitled to freebies.”
2. Children’s toys
Toys are another frequently stolen item from U.S. stores. The Checkpoint report speculated that holiday shoppers may be prone to rationalizing “immoral behavior” like stealing when it means making a child happy on Christmas morning. But some thieves are likely in it for the money. Shoplifters have stolen thousands of dollars of Lego sets from toy stores, with the goal of eventually selling them online.
Collectibles, outdoor sports toys, and connected toys, like drones, and ride-ons like scooters and hover boards will all be hot this Christmas, according to the NPD Group, making them likely targets for shoplifters.
People spend roughly $550 every year on electronics, so it’s hardly surprising some are looking to get must-have gadgets for nothing. Electronics are among the most likely items to be shoplifted, Checkpoint Systems found. This year, PCs, iPads, smartphones, and 4K televisions are showing up on shoppers’ wish lists, according to NPD Group, which means they could also be targets for shoplifters.
4. Electronics accessories
Electronics accessories like wireless headphones, phone cases, and chargers are also among the most stolen items, according to the Checkpoint report. These items are usually fairly small, making them a tempting target for someone looking for a five-finger discount. Plus, a thief who’s already stolen a gaming system or smartphone probably won’t hesitate to help himself to some accessories.