The Scourge Of Shoplifting

One of the uglier recent developments in America is the rise in shoplifting. Many of us have seen videos of incredibly brazen shoplifting and incidents where gangs have smashed into retail establishments and looted their stores. Those videos are symptomatic of a much broader rise in shoplifting that a spokesperson for a retail trade association called “out of control.”

The statistics are shocking. A CVS spokesperson says that the drugstore chain has experienced a 300 percent increase in theft since the COVID pandemic began. A Rite Aid store in Manhattan closed its doors after experiencing $200,000 in shoplifting losses in December and January alone, and New York City grocers are hiring increased security to prevent thefts of steaks and other costly items. And 69 percent of retailers report a significant increase in “organized retail crime.”

Why are we seeing a spike in shoplifting? Retailers think that the lack of a police presence and the failure to seriously prosecute shoplifting are contributing factors and are advocating for a greater police presence and sterner prosecution efforts, but they also contend that the ability to easily sell goods online is helping to spur the surge. Organized shoplifting gangs who want to sell stolen goods don’t need to find a “fence” anymore–they can use on-line marketplaces to sell the boosted items. That’s why some retail groups are pushing for enhanced federal regulation of on-line sellers.

The surge in shoplifting should be of concern to all of us. Brick-and-mortar stores have historically been important parts of their communities and the sources of many jobs–especially starter jobs. Every retail store that is forced to close due to shoplifting reduces employment opportunities. And I don’t want to see an America where the only shopping is on-line shopping, or retail stores become prison-like settings with armed guards and all products kept behind lock and key. Unfortunately, if we don’t do something to stop the spike in theft, that may be where we’re heading.

A Spread-Out Shopping Season

“Black Friday” has come and gone, without a lot of the reports of shoppers pummeling each other or trampling security guards in a rush to get the special deals being offered on big-screen TVs or the hottest new toy. That’s because American shopping patterns appear to be changing, again and probably for good, and “Black Friday”–the day after Thanksgiving that had become the traditional madhouse start to the holiday shopping season–is becoming less of a focus.

CNBC is reporting that while shopping on Black Friday increased over last year, when many retailers operated on reduced hours due to COVID, in-store shopping was down 28 percent from 2019’s pre-pandemic levels. There was even a decline in on-line shopping on Black Friday, with retailers ringing up $8.9 billion in sales compared to $9 billion in 2020. And shopping traffic on Thanksgiving itself, when some retailers opened their doors, was down 90.4 percent from 2019 levels.

Analysts cited by CNBC believes that shoppers are spreading out their holiday shopping more than ever before and identified two reasons for the trend and the related drop-off in Black Friday traffic: continuing concerns about COVID and worries about the supply chain. A survey conducted by the National Retail Federation supports the “spread out” hypothesis. It found that 61 percent of American began their holiday shopping before Thanksgiving.

There’s no doubt that some people are still quite worried about the virus, and media reports on supply chain issues and potential shortages have likely had an impact, too, but I think the reason for the shift away from Black Friday madness has two other causes as well. One is earlier than ever holiday-themed commercials and retailer special deals (and holiday programming on outlets like The Hallmark Channel) that have served to remind people that Christmas is coming, and the other is a more fundamental shift in how to shop. During the height of the COVID pandemic shutdowns, even the most hardened in-person shoppers learned that they could basically do all their shopping on-line. When you see a special deal on TV in the weeks before Thanksgiving that you think would make a good gift and your computer is at your elbow, why wait to make your purchase?

I think the new approach might be something like this: start your shopping on your computer before Thanksgiving, take stock of the status of your shopping list when the boxes start hitting your doorstep, and then venture out to the brick-and-mortar stores in the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when the Black Friday madness has petered out, to fill in the gaps, get the stocking stuffers, and take advantage of any last-minute sales. Whether that scenario is borne out or not, we know one thing: the American consumer is flexible and always willing to try a new approach.

‘Twas The Day After Christmas

It’s the day after Christmas — which for some beleaguered people in the package delivery business is probably about as important as Christmas itself.  This year online retailing once again set a record, which means the package delivery guys have been busting their behinds for weeks and probably are still hustling to deal with the last-minute orders.  As I reflected on the plight of these uniformed soldiers of the modern economy, the poetic muse once more took hold:

The Day After Christmas
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‘Twas the day after Christmas, and all through the land

Fed Ex and UPS remained fully manned

They’ve set a record for deliveries this year

But the last-minute orders have yet to appear

Oh, Amazon!  Oh, Apple!  Oh, Pajamagram!

Your specials and discounts created a jam

The packages and boxes were stacked to the ceiling

The onslaught of orders left deliverers reeling

And because so many waited ’til the last minute

The Christmas Crush?  They’re still in it!

The delivery guys are trying their best

But it’ll take time before they can give it a rest

So if your order hasn’t yet come to your door

Don’t take it out on the delivery corps!

And by the way, I’ll be doing whatever is necessary to avoid going within a one-mile radius of any shopping mall today.