Retail theft, such as shoplifting and employee theft, is a serious problem experienced by big and small retail stores in the US.

It cost retailers $68.9 billion in products stolen by shoplifters in 2019. Retail theft became so grave that it gave several businesses no choice but to close their shops.

In this article, you'll find answers to the questions:

  • How often does theft occur in America?
  • Who are the typical shoplifters?
  • What methods are used in organized crime retail attacks?
  • What are the losses and damages resulting from retail theft?

Let's begin!

Editor's Choice

  • 66% of all shoplifters were under 30.
  • Approximately 3% of shoplifters are professionals.
  • 1 in every 40 employees was caught stealing from their retail stores.
  • Averaging $719,548 per $1 billion in sales was lost to organized retail crime.
  • 34% of items stolen by organized retail criminals are designer clothes.
  • Over 42.1% of retailers experience cargo theft in stores.
  • Organized theft groups secure $69 billion in profit annually.
  • The national shoplifting loss rate per minute is $19,000–$25,400.
  • Target blamed organized retail criminals for $400 million in profit losses.

How Common Is Retail Theft?

There are 442,597 physical retail stores across America, many of which have experienced retail theft. These retail businesses have lost billions of dollars!

In 2020, the US's average dollar loss per shoplifting was approximately $460. More than 830,000 cases were recorded in the same year.

Theft in retail has been evolving and is an industry that has become a hotspot for shoplifters and criminal organizations. The following statistics will shed light on this issue.

Shoplifter Statistics Demographic

Across America, 52% of retailers have tightened or planned to improve their store policies regarding fraud and shoplifting. They updated point-of-sale guidelines, enhanced security for trespassing, and screened employees. 

Retail stores are looking for solutions to reduce retail theft incidents because most shoplifters are: 

1. 66% of all shoplifters were under 30 years old.

(Office of Justice Programs)

Shoplifters may be broke, but they are still young. Generally, they do not steal out of need, but temptation and the trend play a role.

Based on OJP's data, 33% were between 18-29 years old, and 26.7% were between 12 and 17 years old. Even more alarming, 6.2% were under 12 years of age. 

2. Approximately 3% of shoplifters are professionals.

(National Association for Shoplifting Prevention)

3% of shoplifters stealing in retail stores would resell or profit from their shoplifted items. These include addicts who sustain unhealthy and illegal habits, organized crime groups, and people who steal to live expensive lifestyles. 

However, despite the small population that shoplifts for financial gain, the items they stole were costly and high value, enough for them to score a jackpot. 

3. 1 in every 40 employees was caught stealing from their retail stores.

(Hayes International, National Retail Federation, The New York Times)

Employee theft is less common but still costs retail establishments a lot. An average retail loss of $1980 was recorded, higher than the average shoplifting loss of $438.

Internal fraud and employee-related theft contribute significantly to inventory shrinkage. The survey found that theft or internal fraud caused 32.2% of inventory losses. 

These are the forms of employee theft in retail:

  • Stealing products
  • Gift card theft
  • Letting a friend or family member take anything without paying or falsely giving discounts
  • Identity theft
  • Skimming

Background checks and screening of employees are essential in dealing with internal fraud and retail theft. 

Organized Retail Crime Statistics

The National Retail Federation reported a 26.5% increase in organized retail crime in 2021 compared to 2020. 

The increase made the retailers call out the issue. Walmart stated that if the increase continues, some stores will close due to inventory shrinkage. 

Aside from inventory shrinkage, organized retail criminals have become more aggressive and violent. Retail personnel and customers are at risk, not just for economic loss but also for safety and security. 

Take a look at the notable organized retail crime statistics:

4. Averaging $719,548 per $1 billion in sales was lost to organized retail crime.

(National Retail Federation)

There was an increase in the average sales cost of organized retail crime from $453,940 in 2015 to $719,548 per $1 billion, consistently reaching $700,000 for over five years.

Additionally, organized retail crime victimized 3 out of 4 retailers. The problem is growing because of changes in the legislation and lower penalties for shoplifting.

5. 34% of items stolen by organized retail criminals are designer clothes.

(National Retail Federation)

Since they have a high value when resold, designer clothing was one of the targets of organized retail criminals in retail theft. It was followed by:

  • 21% Laundry Detergent
  • 20% Razors
  • 16% Designer handbags
  • 15% Deodorant
  • 13% Laptops/Tablets, High-End Liquor, Medicines, and Instant formula

Among all the items organized retail criminals stole, expensive appliances and high-end vacuums were less likely to be targeted.

6. Over 42.1% of retailers experience cargo theft in stores.

(Retail Security Survey)

Cargo theft is one of several challenges retailers face that shrink inventory and make money for organized retail theft offenders.

Retailers experience cargo theft most of the time when:

  • Routing cargo shipments through stores at 47.4%
  • Cargo theft in stores at 42.1%
  • Routing from manufacturers to distribution centers at 35.1%

Cargo theft is not a one-person operation. It has insider information from one of the retail employees that enable organized retail criminals to hijack retail items easily.

Retail Theft Loss/Damage Statistics

Due to inventory shrinkage, the prices of essentials and commodities will increase. Retail stores and establishments will cease operations and experience layoffs if this continues. 

Below are the reported damages and losses caused by retail theft:

7. Organized theft groups secure $69 billion in profit annually. 

(Fox Business)

Homeland Security Investigations and the Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists confirmed that organized theft gangs made billions each year via trade-based money laundering schemes. 

Hiring shoplifters has made organized crime more strategic. They secured $69 billion by planning and studying retail store layouts, CCTV placement, shoplifting processes, and anti-theft measures. 

8. The national shoplifting loss rate per minute is around $19,000-$25,400.

(Crime Doctor)

Shoplifting loss differs from one retail store to another but can be measured through 1 out of 3 total inventory shrinkages.

The total shoplifting loss was $10-13 billion annually, with an estimated 330-340 million shoplifting occurrences yearly. 

9. Target blamed organized retail criminals for $400 million in profit losses. 

(Business Insider)

The biggest and most prominent retail store in America condemned organized retail criminals for inventory shrinkage in 2021, losing $400 million and expecting to increase it to $600 million.

Target is not the only retail store suffering from organized retail crimes. Across the US, several enterprises and businesses have lost millions of dollars due to theft.  

The Bottom Line

If retail theft continues, it will greatly harm small businesses and may force some large stores to close. The US government should pass regulations on shoplifting hotspots to solve this issue.

Additionally, it is crucial to consider stronger punishments for those who commit this crime. These steps can secure US retail stores, keeping consumers safe.