Retail Theft Often Preplanned By Complex Criminal Networks, New Report Asserts
People break the glass of a Nordstrom store before stealing merchandise in downtown Minneapolis, US on August 26, 2020.
Tim Evans/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Criminal operations which are expanding in complexity often enable retail theft in the United States, according to a report released on Thursday by the National Retail Federation.

Organized retail crime, defined by the trade association as theft which occurs through high-level coordination for the goal of reselling stolen items, has increasingly plagued retailers as crime rates increase across the nation. The report asserts that criminal networks are shifting from the resale of goods on third-party online sellers and leaning more upon peer-to-peer platforms.

“ORC has a parasitic relationship to the economy and society,” the report said, “and its effects extend beyond direct financial costs to the retail industry and the public sector, as ORC presents potential public health and security risks to consumers and communities.”

Rather than seeking to acquire luxury goods, crime networks often coordinate their efforts to steal consumer goods which present ease of theft, monetary value, and ease of resale. An analysis of 116 organized retail crime entities from the National Retail Federation and risk advisory firm K2 Integrity showed that 81% of networks exclusively stole consumer goods such as cosmetics, personal care items, and over-the-counter medications. The cost of securing such goods with tags or other means is high relative to the cost of the products.

The National Retail Federation and the United States Chamber of Commerce sought to rally industry leaders last year to back multiple laws that would increase federal resources devoted to combating organized retail crime. The typical fencing operation handles some $250,000 in stolen merchandise before law enforcement intervenes, according to the report, while the typical booster employed by a criminal network steals $5,000 before he is arrested.

The report said crime networks have become increasingly “violent” and “brazen” in their tactics over the past two years, using methods such as smash-and-grab, weapons, flash mob tactics, or threats of violence against store employees or customers. Viral videos featuring the tactics have circulated over the past few years as crime rates soar in many cities.

Demand for goods stolen via organized retail crime could be increasingly buoyed by a subculture of youth which maintain a “vague anti-capitalist ideology” and increasingly consider theft acceptable, according to the report. The criminal networks generally do not currently use the dark web to sell stolen products, but the platform could “present a viable venue” in the future should internet users increase their utilization of dark web technology.

The report from the National Retail Federation comes as restaurants and stores close in large cities partially in response to surging crime. Walmart this week announced the closure of four stores in Chicago as Whole Foods shutters its flagship location in downtown San Francisco.


Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said in an interview last year that the retail behemoth has been impacted by an uptick in shoplifting and warned that “stores will close” if the phenomenon is not resolved by city officials. “Theft is an issue. It’s higher than what it has historically been,” he remarked. “We’ve got safety measures, security measures that we’ve put in place by store location. I think local law enforcement being staffed and being a good partner is part of that equation, and that’s normally how we approach it.”

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