Organized retail crime not as prolific as the individual shoplifter, data shows

For the last two or three years, conventional wisdom and expert opinion has been that about half of all retail theft, about $50 billion a year, was done by organized groups raiding stores. But, look closer and it’s the old-fashioned way: individual shoplifting, that by far leads the way.

Walnut Creek's Broadway shopping district pretty much has it all, which is just one reason why Judy. from San Francisco, prefers to drive to shop here. "Where I live, so many stories are closed and it's not easy to get to them and not very safe," said Judy.

The National Retail Federation, an often-quoted source of retail information and data, retracted its allegation that "organized retail crime" was responsible for $45 billion in losses in 2021, almost half of all retail theft. Retail Dive, a trade publication, crunched the numbers and found them to be false and based on erroneous data more than five years old.


FILE - Shoppers at a Target store on Black Friday. . Photographer: Christopher Dilts/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Make no mistake, media reports showing video of truly organized smash and grabs, as well as video of individuals taking merchandise uncontested by store personnel, fed public belief that it was true.

"I don't about the statistics or the numbers but I see it on TV and online. I just think the looting is out of control. It sure seems like there's been an epidemic of this mass looting which is not good," said Ray Meyer in Walnut Creek. 

But, the Computer & Communications Industry Association's chief economist says organized shoplifting is more like 5%. Nonetheless, the retail industry, including some of the big box stores and chain pharmacies have decided to use this as part of their justification for closing stores, all over the nation including, for example, this Walgreens right in the heart of downtown Berkeley.   

Even in Walnut Creek, as verified consumer-shot video shows, many stores use merchandise protection systems, requiring employee help to open shelves and cabinets, often annoying paying customers. 

"People feel like they have no consequences for their actions. It's a big thing I feel like in Walnut Creek. The kids are like super, they just don't think about it," said retail employee Audrey Rattigan. "There's a lot of incidents where girls will run in and grab as much as they can and try to get away with it and a lot of times they do because we can't chase them and we can't touch them," said retail employee Jess Wathen. "It's very concerning whether it's gangs or individuals," added shopper Judy.

While it's true that organized theft is a major problem, fact is, in most major cities shoplifting has decreased by 7% since 2019.


Retail group pulls back on claim organized retail crime accounts for nearly half of inventory loss

It’s unclear how much money retailers broadly are losing due to organized retail crime — or if the problem has substantially increased.