Organized Retail Theft: What it is and how to stop it

September 8, 2023

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

While lone shoplifters still exist, many loss prevention/asset protection departments are shifting their focus towards organized retail theft. These large thefts not only lead to greater losses but also disrupt shoppers in your stores, cause property damage, and can lead to violent altercations when someone tries to intervene. 

Here’s everything you need to know about organized retail theft (ORT). 

See how Solink’s retail security measures can help in the fight against organized retail theft.

What is organized retail crime (ORC)?

Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) defines organized retail crime (ORC) as follows: the association of two or more persons engaged in illegally obtaining items of value from retail establishments, through theft and/or fraud, as part of a criminal enterprise.

Organized retail crime represents a new and increasing threat to retail security around the world. Instead of lone actors shoplifting, groups of individuals work together to profit from retail crime. 

Some of the most common forms of ORC activity are cargo theft and organized retail theft.

What is organized retail theft (ORT)?

Organized retail theft (ORT) is a particularly alarming type of theft. In these events, several people enter a retail establishment at the same time and take high-value items. What makes these attacks particularly costly is that the thieves know which merchandise is the most profitable to take, steal in broad daylight, and their fast action often includes smashing display cases, knocking over shelves, and breaking windows. 

This costs retailers in several ways: 

  1. The loss of large quantities of high-margin merchandise.
  2. Thousands of dollars in damage to store property.
  3. A disruption of sales activities for hours to days while the store is cleaned and repaired.
  4. A reputation of being an unsafe place to shop, leading to lower sales over the coming months.
  5. Staff feeling unsafe, leading to higher turnover and absenteeism.

How big of a problem is organized retail theft?

According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), Security Today, Forbes, CNBC, and the annual reports of many large retailers including Target and Walmart, organized retail crime has risen dramatically over the pandemic

Current estimates place total retail shrink in the USA at $100 billion per year. Approximately 37% of all retail shrink is external theft, of which an increasing proportion can be attributed to organized retail theft.

Here are some specific examples: 

  1. Walmart estimates that they lose $3 billion annually to external theft.
  2. Target’s CEO reported that external theft increased by 50% during the pandemic.
  3. Walgreens estimated that they lose $200 million per year to organized retail crime.
  4. A single “flash mob burglary” event in Glendale, California saw 30 thieves steal $300,000 worth of merchandise from an Yves St Laurent store.

9 ways you can reduce organized retail theft in your stores

How do you prevent organized retail theft? The following are some of the ways that you can improve the defenses of your business against organized retail crime today:

  1. Implement a loss prevention system.
  2. Get the most out of your cloud-based video surveillance.
  3. Test your alarm systems.
  4. Upgrade to video alarms.
  5. Lock up expensive merchandise.
  6. Improve the visibility of your premises.
  7. Inform staff of security measures.
  8. Partner with the police.
  9. Look into special government programs.

1. Implement a loss prevention system

Loss prevention systems are continuously advancing. While LP personnel remain crucial for effective management, the tools they employ are constantly changing. To maximize the benefits of your retail security measures, it is essential to understand how these tools work together.

Your LP personnel, cloud-based video surveillance system, store layout, and electronic article surveillance (EAS), when used strategically, all have compounding effects on your resistance to organized retail theft.

2. Get the most out of your cloud-based video surveillance

Most businesses already have security cameras installed. However, they won’t provide as much security if they aren’t connected to a cloud-based video surveillance system

Solink’s cloud video surveillance system gives you the ability to find video evidence of organized retail theft events in minutes, save every angle of the incident at once, and then share the video with the police by email. 

Knowing that you will provide high-quality evidence in an easy to use format is the best way to get law enforcement to investigate your cases.

3. Test your alarm system

Regularly testing fire extinguishers, smoke detectors, and other vital safety equipment is likely routine for you. Similarly, it’s crucial to apply the same diligence to your security measures, including alarm systems. Ensuring their proper functionality and understanding their operations is of utmost importance.

4. Upgrade to video alarms

Solink Video Alarms Monitoring Service represents a clear improvement over traditional panel alarms.

Solink’s Video Alarms transform the existing security cameras in your store into an efficient alarm system. Panel alarms typically only safeguard specific entry points like doors and windows. Conversely, utilizing video alarms, entire areas can be protected, granting you broader coverage. 

Additionally, you gain the flexibility to activate or deactivate individual areas independently through convenient one-click controls. For instance, you can secure the backdoor while keeping the store open for business.

A key benefit of Solink’s Video Alarms is that skilled professionals verify each event before dispatching emergency responders. This results in quicker response times when necessary and prevents unnecessary dispatches, consequently avoiding hefty fines for false alarms. This alarm verification approach ensures a more reliable and efficient security solution for your business.

5. Lock up your expensive merchandise.

Small but valuable merchandise is the most likely to be targeted, especially everyday items that can be sold either on the streets or to competitor stores. They are easy to grab, cover the cost associated with organized retail theft, and are easy to fence. 

Securing these items against theft makes it less likely that organized retail crime syndicates will target your location. While, as mentioned above, ORC groups are willing to smash through locked cases to get expensive merchandise, this does slow them down and makes the total value of the theft lower. It also encourages them to target an easier location instead.

6. Improve the visibility of your premises

Make it so your store is easy to see into from the outside, and it is easier to see the outside while in the store. This might sound simplistic, but it makes it more likely that someone will witness the organized retail theft incident in progress and call the police. 

Likewise, your store managers will be more likely to see the criminal group staging before entering the business, giving them the chance to call the police before the theft begins.

7. Inform staff of security measures

Typically, during the onboarding process, many companies provide loss prevention training that primarily focuses on internal theft. The aim is to instill in employees the understanding that the company is vigilant in detecting employee theft and takes it seriously.

Nevertheless, an equally effective approach is to frame loss prevention onboarding around the topic of external theft, including organized retail theft. By doing so, companies can not only reduce internal theft but also foster a sense of collective responsibility among all staff members to combat organized retail theft.

8. Partner with the police

Many companies are still sending police video evidence using USB sticks. This is expensive, time-consuming, and unreliable. 

Becoming a reliable partner of the police will lead to more responsive law enforcement. Solink’s Save and Share feature allows you to email clips to the police directly from the platform. When you reliably provide evidence, the police will proactively come to you when they are looking for video footage near your premises. 

More police presence in your area is a great deterrent to theft, especially organized retail theft where criminals typically investigate their targets beforehand.

9. Look into special government programs

While not every state or province has a special organized retail theft program, some do. For example, California has authorized special funding to combat organized retail crime, made it a distinct crime, and has a reporting system where victimized retailers can report ORC incidents.

Organized retail theft FAQ

Here are some frequently asked questions about organized retail theft (ORT).

What does organized retail crime mean?

Organized retail crime (ORC) is a subset of criminal activity targeting retail stores where multiple people work together to commit fraud and theft.

What does organized retail theft mean?

Organized retail theft is when multiple people work together to steal from a store. These are often brazen, midday attacks where thieves do not try to hide their activity and instead destructively snatch as much merchandise as possible.

What is the best deterrent to organized retail theft?

The best deterrent to organized theft is a robust loss prevention system that includes both staff and tools such as a cloud-based security camera system

How can retailers prevent organized retail theft?

Organized retail theft can seemingly occur at random. However, strong deterrents to theft including a cloud-based video surveillance system make it less likely that your retail establishment will be targeted, and if it is, more likely the thieves will be caught.

What does “flash mob burglary” mean?

A flash mob burglary, sometimes called flash mob robbery or simply flash rob, is a specific type of organized retail theft where dozens of criminals enter a store at once, grab as much merchandise as they can, and then leave. In some instances, a single flash mob burglary can result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost merchandise.

What are the preventive measures against organized retail theft?

The following are some good preventative measures against organized retail theft:

  1. Implement a loss prevention system.
  2. Get the most out of your cloud-based video surveillance.
  3. Test your alarm systems.
  4. Upgrade to video alarms.
  5. Lock up expensive merchandise.
  6. Improve the visibility of your premises.
  7. Inform staff of security measures.
  8. Partner with the police.
  9. Look into special government programs.

Organized retail theft is a growing problem. Some estimates indicate it is costing US retailers as much as $30 billion per year. That’s not including the damage caused to stores or the loss in business that can come from an unsafe image.

Solink’s cloud video surveillance works as the center of your loss prevention system, giving you the tools to investigate suspected organized retail theft events and keep your staff and customers safe. 

To see how Solink helps combat organized retail theft, sign up for a demo today.

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Timothy Ware is Solink’s Content Manager. He brings over ten years of writing and editing experience to the job. When he isn’t writing about security, loss prevention, and asset protection, he’s enjoying his newest board game. His work has appeared on many B2B SaaS websites including Baremetrics, Security Today, TeamPassword, Cova, and SignTime.