You’ll never guess how much theft costs the retail sector… and us 54



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How many people could the retail sector employ in a single year for THAT much? 

I found myself thinking about this just recently when I heard the figure used in a story on A Current Affair. It was about shoplifting, though we’re encouraged these days to call it ‘shop stealing’ I think. Undetected theft from shops of all kinds costs retailers in Australia $3.4 billion, every year. A staggering figure.

Many years ago in the small New Zealand town I was living in, my husband came home from work one day after attending a Chamber of Commerce meeting. He was there as a media representative, not a businessman, but he knew everyone at the meeting and he came home shaking his head with disbelief.

Unknown to the members, the Chamber of Commerce had employed a security firm in another town to test the security of the town’s businesses, that is, to test just how easy or difficult it was to steal from the shops. Well, what a surprise for those retailers at the meeting.

The security team brought into the meeting the things they had stolen that day from the stores in town. Among the items was a lawn mower (wheeled into the meeting as coolly as it had been wheeled out of the shop), an encyclopaedia set (pinched one book at a time and hidden among paid-for magazines), a four-slice toaster, a sack of mulch, and an enormous quantity of clothing. And quite a bit more I can’t remember. 

The secret in each case was the casual and nonchalant attitude of the thieves. Not one was challenged because they looked as though they had every right to be doing what they were doing. 

The recommendation of the security experts? Employ more staff to keep an eye on dodgy customers.

That’s what I found myself thinking when I heard it costs $3.4 billion a year for thefts from stores around Australia. Employ more staff to keep an eye on dodgy customers! Employ more people, shoplifting will drop, customers will be served more quickly—wins all round I reckon.

What do you think? If more people identifiable as staff were all around the store, would it deter theft? Would it be like drivers being cautious when a police car is in the vicinity?

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Fran Goodey

Frances Goodey is the mother of four daughters and the grandmother of two primary school age boys. With six brothers and two sisters, she was raised in Sydney and later lived and worked in Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and Brisbane. She is an avid reader and has had some small success with children's stories being published in New Zealand and Australia. Both she and her husband are retired, and her daughters live in Brisbane, Toowoomba, Sydney and Frankfurt.

  1. It is estimated the two big supermarkets lose 30% due to theft. Other retail outlets can lose upto 52% … my figures are taken from my companys statisics … I work in loss prevention, unfortunately most thefts are repeat offenders, the law is very soft or unable to prosecute petty theft under a certain amount and these repeat offenders now it.

  2. I would think that the staff were working with the thieves, how could you get a lawnmower through the checkout otherwise ?

    4 REPLY
    • Well we know for sure in this case the lawnmower was not stolen with the help of staff. A man I know had a lawnmower stolen from his business and neither he nor his wife are likely to have helped a thief.

    • Just recently there was a motor bike stolen from a business (in the town where I live) right under the nose of the owner during the hours of trading – it blows my mind how they can do these things too – no more lollies in pockets, its big tikcet items too!

    • Owen Gustafson The article says “Among the items was a lawn mower (wheeled into the meeting as coolly as it had been wheeled out of the shop),” The husband and wife I know are the staff. It is a small business.

  3. Most times there are only two staff in the whole retail shop. One on the registrar another helping another customer – who’s watching what is happening?

  4. I was staggered when a friend told me how much the supermarket chain she works in loses each week. Some is spoilage, some from the self-serve tills, but most is from theft. Lack of staff seems to be the issue.

    3 REPLY
  5. Why are people stealing? Not enough staff? So we steal?

    1 REPLY
    • So long as the goods are displayed so customers can touch and handle them unsupervised, a big percentage will be stolen. Morality, like religion is a thing of the past. People truly believe that the world owes them a living and that shop stealing is no worse than helping yourself to fish from a bountiful ocean. Seems most of us are hunter-gatherers at heart.

  6. I think anyone who shop lifts is a fool, there are cameras everywhere, but obviously some must be doing it and getting away with it. Yes employ more floor walkers

  7. The whole point is …… We all have to serve ourselves, the time it takes to find what your looking for – seldom any staff to answer questions, so I guess if the proprietor is so disinterested in what they are selling , they are inviting theft. I come from a time that there were enough staff to serve you & attend to your needs . Sure the cost is more staff – the save is less theft !

  8. I was at woolworths when one checkout chick said to the next one “He’s done it again” “What is it this time?” she said I think a bottle of coffee” I said well run after him. She said “I can’t leave my post and anyway it isn’t worth it. He steals something every day. Nobody except a policeman is allowed to touch the thief – therefore he gets away. I did ring the police one night when a gang of people were trying to break into my car. The policeman asked if they were black or white. I said I’m not sure it is dark. He said they had more important things to do and wouldn’t be coming. So I stuck a broom handle out the window, swore violently and said I’d shoot them. They left – but all the cars in the street were damaged as they tried to steal other cars. Theft and attempted theft costs every single person in the community. Our newsagent is broken into at least twice a year. Nothing is taken scratchits go home with the owners and ciggies are very very secure but repairing the roof and ceiling costs thousands every time. Think of this every time you pay house or car insurances.

    5 REPLY
    • The law is on the side of the “poor little criminals” A toy store near us used to have a picture of the thieves with what they stole in their windows. Guess what. That is illegal. They aren’t allowed to name and shame the thieves. Police aren’t interested and the law isn’t interested. We just gotta keep paying through the nose for everything. Prisons are overflowing – can’t hear any politicians calling for more.

    • Exactly Leone, the police would love to do their job but the Whitlam law is protecting them, time to change it.

    • I think the police are frustrated too – lack of numbers in their ranks, and when they do get people to court the magistrates give them a slap on the wrist or let them off with a ‘caution’ .

    • Same thing happened at the checkout at Woolies the person in front of me had one of those bulk packs of drink cans, she was clever and had pushed the pack to the side nearest the operator so it was difficult to see, I was oblivious to all of this until the guy at the next checkout said watch her and she went through without paying, they told me she tries to steal something every time, they got her with this one though. Sad I think It affects all of us in the end.

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