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Spike in retail theft

A spike in reports of shoplifting have been seen across the country in recent months. Retail corporations have said that merchandise losses related to theft, including organized retail crime, have ticked up recently.

The issue has pushed some retailers to shutter stores. Target (NYSE:TRGT), for example, recently said it would shutter nine locations across the U.S. because of rising theft and crime.

Altogether, theft accounts for 65% of retail shrink — 36% due to external theft and 29% due to internal (employee) theft — according to the NRF’s research.

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Costco's robust defenses

Costco has managed to keep a lid on its level of shrink.

Galanti told the Daily Mail after the earnings call that the company’s shrinkage rate was between “0.1% and 0.2%,” according to its data at the time. That’s significantly lower than the nationwide average of 1.6%, as reported by the NRF.

Among the reasons Galanti cited for Costco’s relatively low shrinkage is the layout of its stores. Because Costco stores are structured like warehouses, with only a single point of entry or exit, they’re less vulnerable to thieves.

But Costco’s membership-based business model is, perhaps, its strongest defense, according to Galanti.

“You have to show your picture ID when you come into our warehouse,” he told the Daily Mail. “So the fact that it's member-only is a positive.”

Costco items are also relatively more difficult to steal. The chain sells bulk and larger items that are inconvenient for shoplifters.

However, the chain isn’t immune to theft. Galanti admitted during the call that shrink ticked up after the company rolled out self-service checkouts at some locations during the pandemic. But he told the Daily Mail the problem hasn’t worsened enough to stop the company from continuing to offer the feature.

Correction, Dec. 28, 2023: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the NRF reported “crime” was costing the retail industry $112 billion. In fact, it reported “shrink” was costing the industry $112 billion. Shrink refers to loss of inventory and can include, but is not limited to, criminal activity such as theft. The story also stated the average shrink rate nationwide was 1.44%. The NRF’s latest figure is 1.6%, with the previous year’s average being 1.4%. Finally, Costco CFO Richard Galanti’s post-earnings call quotes are now properly attributed to the Daily Mail.

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Vishesh Raisinghani Freelance Writer

Vishesh Raisinghani is a freelance contributor at MoneyWise. He has been writing about financial markets and economics since 2014 - having covered family offices, private equity, real estate, cryptocurrencies, and tech stocks over that period. His work has appeared in Seeking Alpha, Motley Fool Canada, Motley Fool UK, Mergers & Acquisitions, National Post, Financial Post, and Yahoo Canada.

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