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Retail Sales Are Up, But So Is Theft


This holiday season might not be as cheerful as some retailers hope.

This morning, the US Census Bureau announced that advance estimates of US retail sales for November, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes, were $352.1 billion, an increase of 1.3% from the previous month and 1.9% year-over-year.

It offers a slight glimmer of hope for retailers, to be sure. However, according to the Global Retail Theft Barometer survey, US retail losses due to theft in 2009 are expected to jump almost 9% to $46 billion, and the National Retail Federation expects shoplifting to rise as high as 8% this holiday season, costing stores about $30 billion.

"It is a shocking increase and something that retailers need to get to grips with quickly," said industry expert Joshua Bamfield. "People already feeling, or merely anticipating, the negative impact of the recession have taken to stealing at the very time retailers also suffering from the downturn have had to cut back on security staff."

ADT Security Services reports that 62% fewer seasonal holiday workers were hired this year, increasing the opportunity to steal during the most crucial sales period of the year -- accounting for about 50% of merchants' yearly profits.

Not only does shoplifting cost retailers money -- more than $3 billion this year for Walmart (WMT) alone, retail consultant Burt Flickinger III told the Associated Press -- it costs consumers, as well.

University of Florida criminologist Richard C. Hollinger, Ph.D. says that higher prices due to retail theft add around $440 to an average American household's annual expenses.

The most commonly stolen items?

At Home Depot (HD), power tools and weed killer disappear most often.

At supermarkets like Safeway (SWY) and Kroger (KR), meat, cheese, and baby formula are popular among thieves.

And at electronics retailers such as Best Buy (BBY), satellite navigation systems, video games, Apple (AAPL) iPods, and gaming consoles -- particularly the Nintendo (NTDOY) Wii -- get taken particularly often. So do 42-inch flat-screen TVs.

How exactly does one steal a 42-inch TV?

On Wednesday, Shatavia Rowe and Lawanne Harris made off with four flat-screen televisions (as well as assorted other electronics) by placing them in two shopping carts at a South Windsor, Connecticut Target (TGT) and simply walking out the door.

They were arrested and charged with third-degree larceny.

Rowe and Harris should consider themselves fortunate they didn't do their shoplifting in China.

A few months ago, a 37-year-old woman named Yu Xiaochun was accused of theft by five Walmart employees in the province of Jiangxi.

She was beaten to death.
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