In recent years, media outlets in California and around the country have reported on a worrying rise in organized retail theft. The basis for many of these stories is a report released in 2022 by the National Retail Federation. In that report, the trade association claimed that organized retail theft cost the industry $45 billion in 2021 alone. The organization now concedes that the $45 billion figure is inaccurate.
The figure was taken from testimony given to a Senate committee in 2021 by the president of the National Coalition of Law Enforcement and Retail. When the COAL president mentioned $45 billion, he was referring to total retail thefts in 2016 and not organized retail thefts in 2021. Total retail thefts in 2021 amounted to $94.5 billion. This figure includes losses caused by vendor fraud, fraudulent returns and incorrect scanning as well as theft crimes.
Organized retail theft
The NRE has retracted the $45 billion claim, but the organization still maintains that organized retail theft is a serious problem in the industry. Several Big-box operators have cited organized retail theft as a reason for closing stores, but some industry experts believe the problem is being exaggerated to hide poor performance from investors. When the Council on Criminal Justice investigated retail theft, the nonpartisan group discovered that shoplifting reports in large American cities increased by 16% between 2019 and 2023. When the researchers excluded the data from New York City, shoplifting reports dropped by 7%.
When media outlets run stories about rampant crime, the public demands action. Reports about widespread retail theft led to calls for harsher shoplifting penalties and more rigorous policing, but the report that many of those stories were based on has now been retracted. The NRE claimed that organized retail theft losses in 2021 totaled $45 billion, but the trade association now admits that figure is inaccurate.