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Store employees are facing an increase in violence

As retailers note an increase in theft across stores nationwide, there’s an unfortunate side effect of the inventory loss: an uptick in violence against retail employees themselves.

A surge in organized retail crime and violence is happening across the entire sector, affecting both fashion and grocery stores, a report from the United States Chamber of Commerce indicates.

“This surge is due not to one-time shoplifters but to the rise in highly organized criminal groups—organized retail crime rings,” the report said.

Unlike random shoplifting incidents committed by individuals, organized retail theft is coordinated by multiple people who then go on to sell their stolen goods online.

And different from your run-of-the-mill shoplifting, those engaged in organized retail crime are far more likely to become violent toward unsuspecting employees and customers, the Chamber said.

According to the National Retail Federation’s 2022 Retail Security Survey, 8 out of 10 retailers reported increased incidents of violence and aggression in the past year. In 2022, inventory shrink contributed to $112.1 billion in losses, up from $93.9 billion in 2021.

Retail theft has a large impact on companies’ bottom lines, but an even more troubling fact may lie in the increased shift in violence to employees.

“Retailers are seeing unprecedented levels of theft coupled with rampant crime in their stores, and the situation is only becoming more dire,” National Retail Federation Vice President of Asset Protection and Retail Operations David Johnson said in a statement. “Far beyond the financial impact of these crimes, the violence and concerns over safety continue to be the priority for all retailers, regardless of size or category.”

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) also penned a letter stating store employees face “unacceptable levels of violence and abuse.” The consortium is now asking lawmakers to create a new statutory offense that would make it a specific crime to assault, threaten or abuse a retail worker.

“This standalone offence would send an important signal that our colleagues will receive better protection in law and act as a deterrent to would-be offenders,” the letter reads. “This action should be taken without delay.”

The violence against retail workers could cause fewer people to accept and work these jobs in the future, creating a huge disruption to the retail industry at large.

“We are seeing organized gangs threatening staff with weapons and emptying stores,” BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said in a statement. “We are seeing a torrent of abuse aimed at hardworking shop staff. It’s simply unacceptable – no one should have to go to work fearing for their safety.”

Those who steal from stores are also taking far more away from the retailers in recent years. While the average theft constituted $937 in 2020, that number grew to $1,180 in 2021, according to the Chamber of Commerce.

Small businesses are feeling the hit too, with the majority saying they’ve been targeted and nearly half believe the issue has gotten worse.

Though pharmacies, big box stores and grocery stores are some of the most likely to be targeted, dollar stores and luxury retailers also get their fair share of crime.

Store Closures

Because retail crime tends to lead to store closures, America has lost a total of 658,375 jobs, which has a “ripple effect across the entire economy,” the Chamber of Commerce said.

Target has announced it will close nine stores due to higher retail crime.

“We cannot continue operating these stores because theft and organized retail crime are threatening the safety of our team and guests, and contributing to unsustainable business performance,” Target said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Walmart shuttered four stores in Chicago, with its CEO warning that price increases could be on the way as inventory disappears.

“If that’s not corrected over time, prices will be higher, and/or stores will close,” Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said in a CNBC interview last year about the uptick in crime.

More Injuries Reported

A study by Jackman Law Firm also saw general retail stores had the highest increase in injuries and illnesses from 2017 to 2021, which also saw a gradual jump in violence perpetuated toward store workers.

In 2017, the incident rate was just 4.1 for every 100 workers, while in 2021, that grew to 5.6.

Top retailers like Walmart, Target and Macy’s were included in the study, and they are some of the chains reporting the greatest jumps in retail theft and violence.

Unsuspected Organizers

Despite the widespread videos of mobs stealing luxury goods, some orchestrators of organized retail crime have surprised their communities when their identities were finally revealed.

A recent story from The Wall Street Journal highlighted a Florida man named Robert Dell who was the brains behind an organized retail crime ring that sold $3 million through eBay since 2016. Dell was a pastor who ran a drug recovery program and for many years organized the crime ring in secret, unsuspected by his community.

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