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Organized retail crime wave 'traumatizing' US workers

Organized retail crime wave 'traumatizing' US workers
Amid a surge in organized shoplifting, Best Buy CEO Corie Barry has said that the crime wave is “traumatizing” employees and making hiring and keeping staff difficult. The retailer is not the only outlet targeted by criminals.

Organized shoplifting has “increased dramatically” over the last two years, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul warned in September. Raoul pointed to shocking figures from the retail industry – theft investigations were up 86% at Home Depot, shoplifting was up 30% at CVS, and Lowe’s Home Improvement recorded $1.3 million in losses due to theft last year, compared to $388,000 in 2019.

Since Raoul sounded the alarm, shocking videos have emerged showing brazen thefts by organized gangs in the AG’s own city of Chicago, and as far afield as San Francisco, California.

“These are traumatic experiences, and they are happening more and more across the country,” Best Buy CEO Corie Barry told CNBC on Tuesday, after the retailer’s share price tumbled. Highlighting California as one of several “hot spots,” Barry said that the “unacceptable” crime wave was harming her company’s profits, making it difficult to hire and retain staff, and “traumatizing” employees.

Best Buy encourages employees not to confront shoplifters, with Barry telling CNBC that “priority one is just human safety.” However, this non-confrontational approach, coupled with law enforcement apparently prioritizing other kinds of crimes, Barry said, makes the problem “hard to deal with.”

Speaking on an earnings call earlier this week, Barry said that Best Buy would lock up some of its merchandise and hire more security guards in certain locations.

Best Buy employs more than 100,000 people in more than 1,000 stores, and is the US’ second-largest consumer electronics retailer. However, its problems with organized shoplifting aren’t unique. More than three dozen other retailers and manufacturers that make up the Buy Safe America coalition have pointed to a “moderate to considerable” increase in organized theft since before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Since the onset of the pandemic, thefts have only increased, with loss prevention expert Tony Sheppard telling CBS News that the rise in online shopping has given thieves access to more customers to fence their stolen merchandise to. Though their profits are generated online, the criminals pose a real-world threat to retail workers. Some 86% of retailers told Buy Safe America that a staff member had been threatened by a shoplifter, while three quarters said that an employee had been physically assaulted.

“Organized retail crime is leading to more brazen and more violent attacks in retail stores throughout the country,” Homeland Security Investigations director Steve Francis said last week. “Tackling this growing threat is important to the safety of store employees, customers, and communities across the country.”

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