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Shoplifters cost retail industry millions each year

| Crime and security

"Hot products", or small items that can be easily concealed, are the target of shoplifters, whose exploits cost SA’s retailers millions of rand annually.

Such products can be quickly resold through informal markets at a cheaper price, says the Consumer Goods Council of SA (CGCSA).

"Shrinkage", which includes shoplifting, employee and supplier theft and administrative errors, cost the global retail industry more than $128bn last year, according to the Global Retail Theft Barometer, a research report first launched in 2001 to showcase shrinkage trends as well as the leading causes and methods of prevention.

In November last year, the Foschini Group said it had seen a significant increase in crime-related losses, which it described as a country-wide phenomenon. However, the company, whose brands include Totalsports and American Swiss, last week said shrinkage was at "acceptable levels".

Common tactics used by shoplifters include lining their bags with household tinfoil to block electronic alarms, working in syndicates and stuffing stolen items into stretch tights that are hidden under baggy clothing.

On the "hot products" list are items such as groceries, especially meats and instant coffee, razor blades and cartridges, beauty products and cosmetics. Also targeted are vitamins, clothing, chocolates, toiletries, baby products, shoe polish, liquor and small technology items such as iPods, smartphones, USB flash drives, earphones, CDs and DVDs.

The head of the CGCSA Crime Risk Initiative, Graham Wright, said "shoplifting increases during busy retail operation periods like weekends and afternoons, as the stores would be less focused on petty theft and shoplifting. This makes it easier for items to be stolen and concealed by perpetrators without them being detected," he said.

Because the festive season, public holidays and Easter are generally busier for retailers, it is likely that shoplifting would increase at these times.

Theft occurs frequently in the food and clothing retail environment. Apart from being loath to open up about their losses, most retailers would also not reveal the measures they use to combat theft. But cameras, as well as hard and soft tags, are most commonly used in SA.

Pick n Pay’s director of corporate communication and strategy, David North, said retail crime was a problem faced by the whole industry.

"We have … security procedures in place both to protect customers and to keep problems like shoplifting to a minimum," he said.

Shoprite’s security measures involved state-of-the-art surveillance systems and the contracting of independent security companies to protect customers, its premises and stock, a company spokeswoman said.

"Shrinkage remains well under control.… [We] are not experiencing a significant increase in the number of shoplifting incidents in stores due to preventative measures and controls that [we] have in place to safeguard our assets," she said.

In-store security measures are routinely assessed and additional measures instituted where needed in the interests of the safety of Shoprite’s customers, staff, and property. Suspected shoplifters are handed over to the SAPS in order for the law to take its course.

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