Retail crime is “out of control”
Coles and Woolworths have taken a stand against shoplifting this past week, with both supermarkets installing new camera systems at self-service checkouts to deter bad behaviour from customers.
The CCTV system, which films customers at the checkout and plays the footage back to them in real time, aims to promote good behaviour by instilling in people the feeling of being watched – even if staff members are not standing over their shoulder.
While many customers prefer to use the self-service checkouts for their convenience – they put through more than eight million transactions each week – some have more nefarious plans for the largely unmanned exits.
“While the large majority of our customers do the right thing, it’s not fair that a small number of people get away with doing the wrong thing,” a Coles spokesperson told Inside Retail.
Coles is currently trialling new security technology in a small number of stores.
Woolworths also implemented these screens in its new Gregory Hills store in an effort to catch the shoppers who intentionally, or absent-mindedly, commit retail theft.
A drop in the bucket
While reducing any amount of retail crime is important, these cameras are unlikely to have any impact on the more organised criminals who frequent retailers, according to the National Retail Association (NRA) manager for industry policy David Stout.
“These people are highly sophisticated, and have no intention of paying for these things, so the likelihood of them going to a self-scan register is low,” Stout told Inside Retail.
Incidents of retail crime have increased almost 5 per cent over the past five years, according to the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research – the fastest growth in any of the 17 categories the bureau tracks.
Retail crime is “out of control”, according to Stout, with thieves becoming increasingly brazen, often taking stock – from technology to food – and walking out the door past team members, knowing they are not going to be challenged or apprehended.
The situation is amplified by the many options for the resale of stolen goods, Stout said, as well as the aggressive and sometimes drug-fuelled nature of some of the interactions staff have had with thieves. NRA research has concluded that 90 per cent of retailers have reported a significant increase in violent and aggressive behaviour towards staff.
“Apprehension virtually doesn’t exist, because you wouldn’t want to put any team member at risk,” Stout said.
“That’s why the numbers are increasing – and you’re only seeing a very, very small proportion of the numbers being reported because of the lack of appetite for the police to really address it.”
Of the $320 million in sales the Australian retail industry brings in annually, retail crime costs an estimated $5 billion a year when replacement stock, lost output and property damage are taken into account, according to the NRA.
However, Stout estimates that only 10 per cent of stolen goods are reported to the police due to their sometimes sluggish response – the knock-on effect of which means police are only setting aside resources to respond to 10 per cent of what is required, leading to the slower response times.
“Retailers need to report more so the police can resource accordingly,” Stout said.