Katherine Rich: Tackling retail crime
The supermarket owner summed it up in two sentences: “I simply wouldn’t operate the store without having the guards, nowadays. This is now a business cost that we just have to factor in.”
This had nothing to do with keeping the peace in his car park, or anything like that. Rather it was about his response to the rapidly growing incidence of retail crime.
From the day the store opened he has had a security guard on duty from 7am-10pm, seven days a week. He also has had CCTV cameras in his store, with the footage reviewed weekly by a security company.
All this costs him more than $100,000 a year – money he would rather be putting into lower prices and supporting the local community. But he accepts it’s just another cost of doing business, like employing cleaners or paying his fire insurance.
These measures are not just there to deter amateur opportunists who stuff goods into bags or under oversize jackets but also for those who look to cheat their way through self-checkout kiosks by scanning a $12 bottle of wine twice when one is worth $50. It’s also there for the organised gangs who embark on large-scale theft.
It’s a sad indictment that retail crime is forcing retail businesses to take such measures to protect their livelihoods. And it’s not just the big supermarkets – it’s also the corner dairies who suffer awful attacks but which are too small to employ guards.
Retail NZ detailed the scale of the problem in a report that concluded retail crime is increasing year-on-year to such an extent that it’s having a significant economic impact up and down the country. When credit card fraud and e-crime is added in, it’s an impact that’s estimated at a whopping $1 billion a year.
Retail NZ says retailers frequently don’t report incidents because Police don’t treat them as a priority, and because the prosecution process is cumbersome and time-consuming. The Government says it’s going down because there are fewer convictions.
It seems to me that, in addition to Retail NZ’s claims, retailers are also shrugging their shoulders because the law has no teeth. They often don’t confront suspected shoplifters because physically restraining them can result in a claim of assault against the shopkeeper, if not an actual assault ON the shopkeeper.
Anecdotal evidence from FMCG retailers to the Food and Grocery Council backs the reasons for non-reporting. I have also heard from both the major supermarket chains that it’s more often than not about organised gangs going through stores in a real routine.
What to do?
Retailers are doing what they can, but it’s an expensive business and not everyone can afford it. Police also do their best with the resources they have, and most agree their focus must remain on threats to life and limb, and crimes against the person.
Retail NZ has ideas to tackle the issue: more resources for a Police Retail Crime Taskforce that sets targets and attacks the issue; a social investment programme that encourages people to respect the law, and understand the impact of crime and the importance of property rights; an infringement notice regime for petty offences that works like speeding tickets, where Police impose fines.
The Food and Grocery Council endorses the report and the ideas in it. Though retail crime is not a cost to suppliers, it’s clearly hitting retailers hard, and Retail NZ’s ideas are worthy of exploration and consideration.
We cannot brush this issue under the carpet because, to retailers who have their doors open every day to people off the street, it’s real and it’s threatening life and limb and incomes.
(As published in FMCG Business magazine, May 2017)