November 27, 1981

Report Outline
Overview of a ‘Genteel’ Crime
Retailers' Anti-Theft Strategies
Use of Criminal Justice System
Special Focus

Overview of a ‘Genteel’ Crime

Cost of Shoplifting to U.S. Consumers

Have you ever taken anything from a store without paying for it? If you did, you probably did not feel like a criminal. Shoplifting is a crime, but a small one when looked at as an isolated incident. Most shoplifters steal less than $30 worth of goods at a time. But in the aggregate, shoplifting costs retail stores and taxpayers billions of dollars a year. One study called shoplifting and employee theft “the most prevalent and (aside from organized crime) most costly crimes against business and society.”

According to the Atlanta-based National Coalition to Prevent Shoplifting, shoplifters cost Americans about $24 billion in 1980. This included the costs of security and prevention as well as the value of merchandise stolen, which is put at about $3 billion a year. Saul Astor, president of a New York City security company, estimates that one out of three small-business bankruptcies can be attributed to shoplifting and employee thefts. Astor said shoplifting losses and the cost of extra security increase retail prices an average of 2 to 3 cents a dollar.

Precise estimates of shoplifting losses and even the number of people who shoplift are difficult to obtain, because, in the words of Gordon Williams, vice president for operations of the National Retail Merchants Association, “all you know is who you catch,” and only about one out of 35 shoplifters is ever caught. Retailers base their loss estimates on shrinkage, the difference between their inventory and what they are supposed to have in stock. “It is the impression of the security managers in the department and specialty stores that are our members,” Williams told Editorial Research Reports, “that shoplifting accounts for about 30 percent of their shortage; employee theft counts for about 40 percent; and the balance consists of errors and unrecorded markdowns.”

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