Shoplifters cost $1b as staff theft soars

Retailers are losing up to $1 billion every year as shoplifting and staff theft reach record levels.

The Retailers Association of New Zealand blames a tough economy for estimated losses of $2 million a day of stolen products, which equates to almost $750m a year.

Retail Crime Prevention Group spokesman Barry Hellberg reckons the figure could be as high as $1b, as many thefts are unreported or unnoticed.

"I believe it's [got] worse," Hellberg said of shoplifting. "People have got less money in their pocket so the temptation is greater."

National police figures show total theft and related offences dropped 1.59 per cent between 2011 and 2012 but a lot of retail theft goes unreported because businesses are unaware they have a problem, security experts say.

Almost half the theft is done by staff said Steve Davis, a security consultant to the Retailers Association. "Managers believe they're great judges of character. I've seen thousands of cases were the most trusted person in the workplace was the thief."

From the pizza salesperson who stays late each night to put through fake sales on the till and pocket the cash, to the checkout operator who doesn't scan the steak when serving a mate - retail theft is happening all around us.

"Most New Zealand businesses don't realise how much they're losing," Davis said. "They don't do stock takes very well. There's a lot of unrecorded wastage."

Taupo police recently dealt with a spate of fuel card thefts from a car yard, fuel being one of the most popular targets of theft, Senior Sergeant Harry Harvey said. That puts petrol stations at the top of the list of most pilfered places, along with department stores Farmers, The Warehouse as well as Pak 'n Save supermarkets.

"It's the same across the country," Harvey said.

"Farmers, for example, have increased their security and we're doing more community patrols in those places. I think it's getting better.

"People steal for different reasons, whether it's food to feed themselves or their children, or clothing. That's always going to be there no matter what you do."

The last time research on the cost of shoplifting was carried out was 10 years ago by Otago Business School marketing senior lecturer Dr John Guthrie.

He found theft cost retailers about $60m in 2003, but the survey didn't capture a lot of smaller businesses that are typically more vulnerable to theft. Figures could also be worse this time due to economic downturn, Guthrie said

No business was immune, but sticky fingers had their preferred targets, Davis said.

Supermarkets are most likely to lose meat and cheese along with beauty products.

Handheld power tools are most likely to go wandering from hardware stores while at pharmacies it gets a bit odd with lice killer and haemorrhoid creams going missing but this is because some people are too embarrassed to pay for them, Davis said.

Retailers' biggest mistake is thinking security cameras and electronic monitors at the door will win the war on theft.

"They don't stop shoplifting. Huge numbers of goods continue to be stolen despite this because no-one's watching the camera. Electronic monitors are effective to a degree by stopping novice and naive thieves. But there are dozens of YouTube clips on how to get around them."


K Rd sex shop Peaches and Cream in downtown Auckland is one of many adult stores regularly targeted by thieves for "snatch and grabs".

Thieves hit the store about once a fortnight, going for easy-to-grab boxed items, a salesperson said.

"They'll pretend to be looking at dvds and shove the box under a pile of them. I've had to ask people to empty their pockets, it happens once every two weeks."

The salesperson, who did not want to be named, said one of the most targeted items is a ‘Pipe dreams' blow-up doll. Vibrators were also regularly nicked until they were moved to a higher shelf. The thieves are typically men, the salesperson said.

Honey: Alexi Skvotsov appeared in Auckland District Court on April 30, charged with stealing more than $1100 of honey from three west Auckland supermarkets. He is due back in court on May 20.

Chocolate: Shonteil Hau, Stevie-Lee Kapa, Billie-Jean Paikea and Maria Paikea appeared in Waitakere District Court in December 2012, charged with stealing more than $20,000 worth of goods, mostly chocolate and razor blades from Whangarei to Taupo, by filling a trolley with chocolate and walking out or using a diversion to leave without paying.

Lamb: A middle-aged man ran from Farro Fresh in Grey Lynn with two legs of lamb stuffed down the front of his trousers after staff noticed his actions in October 2012.

Steak: Richard Lagas appeared in Hutt Valley District Court on March 26, 2013, to plead guilty to theft when he was caught attempting to take $120 worth of scotch fillet steak by relabelling the packs with price stickers for onions he had printed at a self-service scale in a Lower Hutt supermarket.

He was sentenced to 40 hours community service and ordered to pay for the steaks.


Shaving products

Clothing accessories




Perfume and fragrances

Source: The Centre For Retail Research, 2011