Retailers regularly conduct a physical count of their inventory and compare it to what is recorded on their books. The difference is known as shrinkage, a broad term that encompasses not just internal and external theft but also process failures that could lead to inventory being lost or recorded inaccurately.
Target just announced that it expected the shrinkage problem to reduce gross margins for the year by over $600 million. TJX and Macy’s also reported higher shrink rates. The shift in shoppers returning to stores after a surge in online buying during the pandemic is partly responsible, writes The Wall Street Journal (March 13, 2023). More theft happens in stores, as opposed to warehouses that fulfill online orders. But a never-seen-before jump in organized retail crime in certain U.S. cities is also a factor.
External theft, which includes organized retail crime in addition to regular shoplifting, has become a bigger piece of the pie. Organized retail crime, involving rings that steal from stores in bulk and then peddle the goods online, cost retailers $720,000 for every $1 billion in sales. Seven years ago, theft by employees was the largest category of loss by retailers. Now, it’s external theft.