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In the past few years, large retail chains have experienced an increase in theft, severely cutting into profits. Target, for instance, predicts that losses related to stolen merchandise will add up to a staggering half billion dollars by the end of 2023. Shoplifting has even caused businesses such as Whole Foods, Target and Walmart to close stores because of concerns related to employee safety.
When Target closed stores in New York, California, and Oregon in October, they released a statement explaining why: “Theft and organized retail crime are threatening the safety of our team and guests, and contributing to unsustainable business performance.”
With online sales booming due to an increasingly digitized world and more people working from home, businesses are realizing that traditional stores are challenging to maintain, especially with the threat of theft. “City downtowns have more people working remotely, so those city centers’ retail stores are struggling. It is to the point that many retailers are starting to close stores in these city centers,” Maine West Entrepreneurship teacher David Baysinger said. “When you add the retail theft issues in these city centers, we can see that many major retailers are starting to close stores in these locations.”
In addition to losing money and putting staff in danger, Goodwill employee and Maine West senior Nat Meesamrit believes theft can ruin a company’s reputation. “Obviously, if someone steals from a store, it’s going to give the store a bad connotation and a bad look in general. So if a store is known for being stolen from, it’s something to look out for from a bigger company’s perspective,” Meesamrit said.
Former Target employee and Maine West senior Gale Jose says that he has witnessed shoplifting first hand many times. On one memorable occasion, a thief rushed into the men’s bathroom with the items he had stolen, and the only security guard on duty was female. “He apparently changed his whole outfit in there,” Jose said. “I was told to check if he was still in there, and give them a description of what he looked like.”
Meesamrit had a similar experience, noting that Goodwill’s pricing system makes the store more susceptible to theft. “There was a lady who was taking off the stickers and replacing them with cheaper stickers. They had to kick her out of the store and call the cops,” Meesmarit said. “We have a list of people who are banned so she got on that list and she can’t come back to the store.”
While there are many complex reasons someone would choose to steal, one is incredibly simple: because they want to. “I think some people steal for the thrill of it. Like how some people explore abandoned buildings for fun and the danger of the experience, similar to shoplifters, they do it just because they can,” Jose said.
Jose also cited inflation as a major cause of shoplifting, believing that increased prices have caused more people to struggle to afford necessities. “Arizona Tea used to be 99 cents, and now it’s like $1.99. Pretty drastic change,” Jose said. “It may be a small change in the realm of Arizona Tea, but apply that to other products.” This theory is backed up by a Gallup poll published in May 2023 that found that recent price increases have caused financial hardship for 3 in 5 Americans. However, not everyone who steals keeps items for themselves. Many thieves sell stolen products online in order to make a profit. “I believe the number one reason for the increase in retail theft is that it is easy to create fencing operations to resell goods online,” Baysingar said. “Many people blame the breakdown of the family unit, drug use and homelessness for the increase in retail theft. Although these societal ills add to the problem, the key to stopping the theft lies in preventing the ability to easily resell the items.”
As with any complex issue, there are varying opinions on what would be the most effective way to prevent theft. Some believe stricter enforcement of store protocols and stronger anti-theft laws would drastically decrease shoplifting. “If they steal something, there can be a bigger punishment instead of just a little charge,” Meesamrit said.
Others believe, however, that to truly address shoplifting, the deep rooted causes of theft must be eradicated. Jose, for example, thinks that raising the minimum wage would be one of the most effective ways to reduce stealing. “Minimum wage was supposed to be the minimum wage you need to be able to start a family, own a house, and have a car, but nowadays it isn’t really that. It’s so arbitrarily decided,” Jose said.

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