Inventory “Shrinkage” on the Rise

March 16, 2023

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.

Shoppers now face items locked in glass cabinets in NYC and other cities

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.

Retailers are combating the problem by adding security guards and cameras to stores, locking up goods and making use of facial recognition software to help identify repeat offenders. Macy’s is using radio frequency identification (RFID) tags to better track inventory, adding more security personnel to stores and securing high-end brands with locked cables and sensors.

Retailers and shoppers say there is a fine line between deterring criminals and annoying honest customers. “Retailers are locking up everything from shaving cream to soap,” said one customer. “These should be things that are quick and easy to grab and go. But now I’ve got to find an employee to unlock them for me.”  Some retailers agree they may have gone too far in their theft-prevention measures. Macy’s used to keep German shepherds in its Manhattan flagship for security sweeps, but discontinued the practice in 2015.  NYC police now ask shoppers to take off their face masks before entering stores, a measure intended to help them better identify criminals. The plea came after four men stole  $1.1 million of goods from a jewelry store.

This post provided courtesy of Jay and Barry’s OM Blog at www.heizerrenderom.wordpress.comProfessors Jay Heizer and Barry Render are authors of Operations Management , the world’s top selling textbook in its field, published by Pearson.

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