is an ever-present concern for retailers but with increased traffic and less attention on shoppers during the holidays, retail theft becomes an even bigger problem.
According to the University of Florida's National Retail Security Survey for 2010, retailers lost an estimated $35.3 billion as a direct result of what's called 'preventable inventory shrinkage' by the industry.
Big stores with lots of shoppers attract shoplifters, especially amateurs, who think they can minimize their risk of being caught. Read Hayes, the director of the Loss Prevention Research Council, says huge chain stores with popular items, such as Kmart, Sears , and Wal-Mart , are vulnerable.
Joe LaRocca specializes in asset protection for the National Retail Federation. He says some of the most stolen items are high-end designer merchandise, including handbags and jewelry. The latest electronic gadget is also a favorite target. "Shoplifters, whether they are amateurs or professionals, are stealing the things that you and I want most."
Large supermarkets are even more popular with shoplifters. They have the highest shrinkage rates in the industry, topping 3 percent. Infant formula, over-the-counter drugs, and diabetic test strips are among the items most often stolen.
While there is a lot of demand for electronics and computers, they're harder to steal, pushing that sector's shrinkage rate down to just 0.4 percent.
Professional shoplifters, often associated with organized crime, typically strike in September, October, and November, just before the holiday shopping season.
They are "stocking up their shelves for holiday business, just like a legitimate retailer," says LaRocca.
"Then the professionals avoid crowded stores. More customers, and more employees, means there are more chances for them to be seen and caught."
It's the employees, however, who do most of the stealing. The University of Florida's survey found that 45 percent of all losses are attributable to employee theft, compared to 31 percent due to shoplifting and organized crime.