COVID-19 dampens retail theft losses, not criminal greed

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
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Even as temporary store closures due to the pandemic cut down on total retail theft incidents and losses, thieves stole more per incident. 

According to the 33rd Annual Retail Theft Survey from loss prevention and inventory shrinkage control firm Jack L. Hayes International Inc., the 22 large U.S. retailers participating in the study overall apprehended 184,621 shoplifters and dishonest employees in 2020, down 41.3% from 2019. However, participating “essential” retailers that closed few or no stores saw overall apprehensions rise 7.9%

This same trend was observed throughout the survey’s finding, with respondents reporting overall year-over-year declines in every loss category except average losses per theft, while essential respondents saw their loss statistics climb. For example, respondents overall recovered over $81 million from apprehended shoplifters and dishonest employees in 2020, down 30% from 2020, but essential retailers’ recovery dollars increased 9.1%.

In addition, 158,158 shoplifters were apprehended in 2020, down 43.8% year-over-year; and over $49 million was recovered from these shoplifters, down 36.5%. For essential retailers, shoplifting stats were up 8.6% (apprehensions) and 15.3% (recovery dollars) in 2020. 

Similarly, 26,463 employees were apprehended overall in 2020, down 20.3% from the prior year; and $32 million was recovered from these employees in 2020, down 17.2%. However, essential retailers’ dishonest employee statistics were up 2.7% (apprehensions) and 0.1% (recovery dollars). 

Looking at the average loss per theft incident, the survey revealed that the overall value of the average theft was $440.48, up 19.2% from 2019. This included a 13% increase in average loss per shoplifter incident to $ 310.11, and a 3.8% rise in average loss per employee incident to $1,219.61.

“As expected, the COVID-19 pandemic clearly affected apprehensions and recovery dollars in 2020, with shoplifting apprehensions and recovery dollars down 43.8% and 36.5% respectively; and dishonest employee apprehensions and recovery dollars down 20.3% and 17.2% respectively,” said Mark R. Doyle, president of Jack L. Hayes International. “However, those participant retailers designated as ‘essential’, and dollar recoveries increased 9.1% during 2020.” 

Twenty-two large U.S. retail companies with 18,594 stores and over $500 billion in retail sales in 2020 participated in the survey.