commentary: Global Shoplifting Spree

Causes and Justifications
John W. Ritenbaugh
Given 21-Nov-09; Sermon #965c; 9 minutes

Description: (show)

John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on a Time article 'Recession sparks worldwide shoplifting spree' and an incident involving an anti-theft device on a saw blade, asserts that global theft has jumped 5.9% globally, but 8.1% for the United States. In the United States, according to Joshua Banfield, the principal thieves are store managers and middle class thieves, costing Americans 46 billion dollars annually. Because the store manager thieves pass along the 'losses' (product 'shrinkage') to the customers, it is definitely not a victimless crime.

The lead article in the most recent edition of the Forerunner is "Steal No Longer," and concerns the keeping of the very-often broken Eighth Commandment. Two things occurred to me this week that brought home how ignored the keeping of this commandment is.

The first was by way of an email to me of an article that appeared in Time magazine titled, "Recession Sparks Global Shoplifting Spree." The second was a personal experience that I had in a Home Depot store.

After work yesterday, I went to the Home Depot store to purchase a small, inexpensive tool that I needed to finish a job that I am doing on Sunday morning. The tool cost just under three dollars and is small enough to fit easily in a person's pocket. So after finding the tool, I was surprised to find that this very inexpensive tool had one of those alarm-tripping devices on it. Well, this device trips a store alarm if somebody attempts to leave the store without it being removed at the cash register. I remarked to the employees tending the tool bin, "Why is this alarm-tripping device attached to such an inexpensive tool?" He replied, "Because we have found that thieves shoplift these things by the pocket-full." He gestured and said, "They just go along when you have your back turned, get a whole handful, put them in their pocket and walk out of the store."

Incidentally, it was a saw blade—that's all it was—for a reciprocating saw. Stealing one is apparently not enough, because whoever is stealing them is looking down the road to having a replacement when the one needed immediately wears out. Or, he is looking to sell them to someone else and increase his profit.

This incident dovetailed nicely with the Time article about shoplifting. Its source for the news item is the Britain-based Center for Retail Research. They make a thoroughly documented annual statistical report called "The Global Retail Theft Barometer." This report is distributed to subscribing retailers and others—"others" being like Time magazine—who make use of it for their purposes. It apparently was more than usual in demand this year because of the global recession we are all experiencing.

An interesting sidelight from this article is that being "politically correct" has hit the retail business, because shoplifting is now euphemistically known by those on the inside as "product shrinkage." At any rate, "product shrinkage" has jumped by 5.9 percent. This is unprecedented in their record-keeping—5.9% at more than 1,000 retail chains surveyed globally. This is not a just a survey of the United States. This is worldwide—5.9% globally. That represents a 390% increase in one year.

Now that's worldwide. But in North America, the "land of the free and the home of the brave," the United States, Canada and Mexico it jumped 8.1%, and that 8.1% figure represents $46 billion in shoplifting in the United States, Canada and Mexico. In the Middle East, it jumped by 7.5%. In Europe, 4.7%, representing $44 billion. The total worldwide: $115 billion in one year.

Perhaps most interesting to us here in the United States, Canada and Mexico—grab your seat on this one—the leading thieves were found to be the business owners themselves, with employees second. In Europe, Asia and the Middle East, the leading thieves where the customers. Well, you would think that's the way it is.

Joshua Bamfield, the director for the Center for Retail Research, says that theft for the purpose of resale is the biggest segment of shoplifting, but there has been a notable increase in middle class people stuffing—remember the Home Depot guy? These people coming along, they are picking up the saw blades and stuffing them in their pockets—with things that are not necessities to keep themselves alive. In other words, they are working. Maybe their income is down a little bit, but they boost things up by shoplifting.

What interested me the most are the justifications the Center personnel have found through interviews with police and the shoplifters themselves that those caught shoplifting believe they are fully justified in shoplifting. They have no shame whatever. Bamfield said,

Though most thieves rationalize their acts, the current situation has many people feeling the entire system is broken; the politicians are too corrupt or inept to fix it; and that there is nothing wrong with stealing from these big companies and fancy stores that—the thinking goes—they themselves [the companies] are making out like thieves.

I guess the Eighth Commandment really reads, "You shall not steal except from a thief."

The report added two things:

1) Don't expect the thievery to decrease if and when the economy recovers, because they now have determined the thievery is habitual.

2) This is not a victimless crime, as most shoplifters think. Retailers simply raise the prices of their goods to cover their shoplifting losses. I mean, their "product shrinking" losses. This past year alone, it has cost each American household $436 more in increased prices due to shoplifting than last year.



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