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Why is this happening?

Both Walmart and Target have reportedly increased the amount of products they’re locking up behind glass these days, according to The Street.

The two big-box retailers cited an increase in theft as their reason for such drastic measures. The National Retail Federation (NRF) reported that theft (both internal and external) makes up an average of 65% of losses for retailers. This loss is usually referred to as “shrink” or “shrinkage.”

The NRF’s data shows that, in 2022, U.S. retailers lost $112.1 billion due to shrink, at a rate of 1.6%. This is 0.02% higher than reported in 2021, when the losses added up to $93.9 billion.

This increase is severe enough that the Walmart CEO, Doug McMillon, commented on it.

"We do think that in some jurisdictions here in the U.S., there needs to be action taken to help protect people from crime, including theft," McMillon told The Street.

Theft isn’t just a financial issue for businesses, however — it’s also one of employee safety. The NRF said that 88% of retailers reported that shoplifters acted more aggressively in 2022. Of the retailers who tracked the number of violent theft incidents they experienced, there was an average increase of 35% that same year.

NRF said that some retailers have even resorted to closing down brick and mortar locations entirely or reducing operating hours as a way to curb theft and violence against employees.

Walmart, for example, closed 24 locations in 2023, according to The Street. This came after McMillon told CNBC in 2022 that stores will shutter their doors if rampant theft continued.

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How is this affecting consumers?

This increase in theft has meant that everyday customers are the ones left paying the price. More retailers have resorted to locking up items — including underwear — which makes the shopping experience a frustrating one for the average American.

Customers often need to flag down a staff member to help them access these basic everyday items. The problem, however, is that many of these employees have resorted to following customers around in case they need help.

TikToker Victoria said a Walmart employee followed her around the cosmetics section, checking in to see if she wanted to buy anything. When she finally asked him for an item she wanted — which was locked up — she said he sighed and made a big show of unlocking the cabinet.

She said the employee acted “like it’s an inconvenience” to retrieve the items.

Many comments left on Victoria’s video expressed their own frustrations with the extra steps required to access everyday items.

“[T]his is the reason my husband and I almost always do pickup,” one commenter wrote. “[W]hen we go in, we never get what we need because of everything locked up.”

Already, retailers are struggling to keep their brick and mortar locations open after the pandemic. But with these extra security measures, customers may start relying solely on online shopping — something that is likely to result in the disappearance in even more retail jobs.

According to a report from the Center for an Urban Future, retail jobs in New York City, for example, remained 11% below their February 2020 levels.

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Sabina Wex is a writer and podcast producer in Toronto. Her work has appeared in Business Insider, Fast Company, CBC and more.

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