Retail Crime in the United States

by | Apr 26, 2024

Retail Crime in the United States

U.S. retailers are suffering. The cause: frequent, aggressive retail crime is cutting into their bottom line and creating unsafe store environments. Small businesses without e-commerce capabilities stand to lose the most from this growing crime problem.

Retail crime is nothing new. As long as there have been vendors, stores, and roadside stands, there have been ne’er-do-wells trying to steal items. But the evolving nature of these crimes and the level of violence involved bears another look.

Below, dig into some high-level statistics about crime against retailers—why it happens, where and when the crimes occur, what thieves take, and what retailers can do to protect their stores.

Why Is Retail Crime Increasing?

The National Retail Federation (NRF) investigated this question. Common reasons retailers gave included:

  • Relaxed law enforcement guidelines
  • Shoplifting law changes
  • Limited loss prevention in stores
  • Decreased penalties in shoplifting laws

Depending on location, you’ve likely seen a surge in retail crime. And, like many other retailers across the country, it’s killing your bottom line.

According to the NRF, theft costs the U.S. retail industry billions of dollars annually. In 2019, retail theft amounted to about $61.7 billion in losses. By 2022, only a few years later, that figure skyrocketed to $112 billion. And the projections for 2025 are looking even worse. We’re looking at a staggering $140 billion in losses in 2025 if trends continue.

Common Types of Retail Crime

It’s critical to remember that we’re no longer dealing with simple petty theft and minor shoplifting offenses. There has recently been an explosion in several kinds of retail crime, including:

  • Organized Retail Crime (ORC): Theft conducted by criminal enterprises to illegally obtain merchandise for profit, typically involving large-scale thefts from multiple stores.
  • Smash-and-Grabs: Violent theft tactic involving forcibly breaking into retail stores to steal merchandise quickly.
  • Internal Theft: Criminal acts of theft committed by an employee or by outsiders in collusion with an employee.
  • Shoplifting: Unauthorized removal of merchandise from a store without payment, ranging from petty theft to organized theft operations.
  • Opportunistic or Amateur Shoplifting: Individuals who steal without significant planning for personal need, resale, or simply thrill.
  • Repeat Offenders: Individuals who regularly engage in theft, often taking large quantities of merchandise, sometimes as part of organized crime.

Now that we have a better sense of the various types of retail crime, we can examine the jaw-dropping effects they’ve had on businesses across the country.

The Increasing Frequency and Violence of Retail Crime

Recent years have witnessed a disturbing uptick in the brutality of retail theft crimes across the United States. What was once a minor crime has evolved into a dangerous trend characterized by violence and aggression, risking the safety of workers and customers alike.

According to the NRF’s 2022 Retail Security Survey, incidents of violence in retail settings have risen sharply, with 81% of retailers reporting an increase. Data from law enforcement agencies, industry reports, and news stories concur, painting a stark picture.

One of the most brazen acts of violent retail crime is known as a crash-and-grab or ram-raiding burglary. In these coordinated attacks, perpetrators use vehicles to ram storefronts, swiftly grabbing merchandise before fleeing the scene.

In October and November of 2023 alone, at least eight streetwear shops in Chicago fell victim to crash-and-grabs. On average, that’s a ram-raiding incident each week. Recent incidents, such as the targeted attacks on Seattle boutique Rush Hour and an Oakland Trader Joe’s, underscore the danger and destruction involved in these crimes.

Armed robberies targeting retail stores have also become increasingly prevalent. So, too, have instances of physical assaults against workers and customers. From verbal altercations escalating into physical confrontations to unprovoked attacks on unsuspecting individuals, these incidents underscore the volatile nature of crime in retail environments.

The “brains” behind many violent retail theft crimes are ORC syndicates. These entities orchestrate sophisticated operations to maximize profits while minimizing the risk of detection. ORC groups often employ tactics ranging from intimidation and coercion to outright violence to achieve their objectives.

When Does Retail Crime Happen?

A recent NRF survey also unveils insights into the timing and targets of criminal activities. While crimes can occur at any time, the data suggests that they are most common during peak business hours when stores are bustling with customers.

In other words, thieves crave the chaos and confusion created by a mass of bodies swarming around them. They don’t want to sneak in and out under the cover of darkness.

Unfortunately, peak traffic time is when a secretive crime is most difficult to detect because employees are busy. And if you have the misfortune of contending with a smash-and-grab or other violent crime, this timing puts many of your employees and regular customers at risk.

Where Does Retail Crime Happen?

In terms of geographical hotspots, major cities emerge as the epicenters of retail theft. According to the 2023 NRF Retail Security Survey, here are the top metro areas affected by ORC:

  1. Los Angeles, CA
  2. San Francisco/Oakland, CA
  3. Houston, TX
  4. New York, NY
  5. Seattle, WA
  6. Atlanta, GA
  7. Sacramento, CA – Chicago, IL (tie)
  8. Denver, CO – Miami, FL – Albuquerque, NM (tie)

These cities, with their bustling retail scenes and dense populations, provide fertile ground for organized criminal operations to thrive.

A Newsweek report puts a finer point on the massive crime problem New York City is dealing with. Choosing to include or exclude shoplifting data from NYC skews a country-wide study on whether shoplifting has increased in major cities. Now that’s a major issue.

Commonly Stolen Items

While the specific items targeted vary depending on factors like location, store, and demand, several categories of merchandise consistently rank among the most commonly stolen.

  • Electronics: High-value devices like smartphones, tablets, laptops, and gaming consoles are prime targets for theft due to their popularity, portability, and resale value.
  • Apparel and Accessories: Clothing, shoes, handbags, and accessories are perennial favorites among shoplifters, particularly items from luxury brands. These goods can command high prices online.
  • Health and Beauty Products: Cosmetics, skincare products, and medications are compact, easy to conceal, and in demand.
  • Alcohol and Tobacco: Liquor, wine, and cigarettes are common targets due to their high value and widespread popularity. Thieves may steal these items for personal use or to sell at a premium price.
  • Baby Care Supplies: Thieves take baby care products to exploit their high cost and consistent demand. These items are often resold at a discount or traded for other goods.
  • Groceries: Non-perishables, including canned goods, cereal, and coffee, frequently go missing from grocery stores. Some thieves also take perishable items such as meat, seafood, and cheese, although these present logistical challenges due to refrigeration requirements.
  • Home Improvement Supplies: Tools, hardware, and construction materials are valuable, easy to resell, and in demand among DIY enthusiasts and contractors.
  • Jewelry: Fine jewelry and watches are attractive due to their small size, high value, and potential for easy resale.
  • Toys and Games: Toys, games, and collectibles are especially at risk during the holiday season. Hot items such as action figures, video games, and board games are popular with both individual shoplifters and ORC rings.
  • Household Essentials: A thief may take items like cleaning supplies, detergent, and paper products for resale or use the goods themselves.

While these are the most commonly stolen items, thieves may take anything they deem worth selling.

When Criminals Get Nasty, Get Revenge. Learn More About FlashBang.
When Criminals Get Nasty, Get Revenge. Learn More About FlashBang.

It’s YOUR Turn to Fight Fire with Fire!

To combat the growing risk of retail crime, Deep Sentinel is launching its most advanced crime suppression solution. It’s called FlashBang™—a system that deploys additional active deterrent capabilities to repel and subdue thieves.

FlashBang integrates directly with Deep Sentinel’s award-winning live camera monitoring services, allowing businesses to deploy additional deterrent devices for additional protection. These deterrents include:

  • Smoke bombs
  • Pepper spray
  • Strobe lights
  • High-decibel sirens

It’s time to move beyond traditional crime-stopping measures that have proven ineffective. Businesses have had enough. FlashBang is how they’re fighting back against retail crime once and for all.

FlashBang Blog Banner - Desktop
FlashBang Blog Banner - Mobile

When Criminals Get Nasty, Get Revenge.
With criminals becoming more violent, the response needs to become more aggressive. FlashBang subdues even the most determined intruders with smoke bombs, pepper spray, strobes, and sirens. Visit or call 833.983.6006 for more information.

Share This