It is a trend that many American retailers are facing as the economy shatters, seemingly in slow motion, and the system unwinds. The Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) only exacerbated the problem further, leaving in its wake a shellshocked and increasingly desperate populace grabbing whatever it can before the ship sinks.
"The last thing I want to do is close stores, but I've got to be able to run them safely and profitably," said Giant Food CEO Ira Kress about not just thefts, but also violence at his company's stores, which he says has "increased exponentially" in recent years.
Unlike Lululemon which has a pro-shoplifting stance – Lululemon actually fired two of its workers at an Atlanta location recently for calling the police on looters – Giant Food operates on slim margins and wants to stay in business.
"We used to chase shoplifters," Kress explained about how things used to be prior to COVID, the George Floyd incident, and the Donald Trump years, all of which saw a major breakdown in civility and social relations across America.
"And you'd get the product back, and nobody would ever fight you. I didn't worry about somebody pulling a knife or gun on me  years ago."
(Related: Burnt coffee chain Starbucks has reportedly had to close stores due to similar problems with rising thefts.)
Inner city businesses are feeling the worst of it as urban dwellers tend to be more prone to ransacking stores and engaging in "smash-and-grab" stunts like the kinds circulating across social media.
The George Floyd riots set a whole new tone for vandalism, looting, and violence, which have since become the norm in urban enclaves like Atlanta, Chicago, and San Francisco.
Grocery stores like Giant Food cannot afford to lose their product in the same way that Lululemon or Starbucks can because supermarkets in general operate on extremely thin margins.
"For the big box and the grocery [stores], which are trying to optimize a single-digit margin, it is very difficult to operate, and you will see more and more exits happening," warned Lakshman Lakshmanan, senior director at Alvarez & Marsal's consumer and retail group.
"We're seeing the highest level of organized retail crime and theft ever."
For Giant Food, it used to just be the occasional cigarette pack swipe, but conditions have worsened in today's world to the point that the grocery chain is now having to watch out for thieves stealing everyday essentials.
"It's continued to escalate, so now it's Tide and Dove and razor blades and Olay, or roasts or shrimp or crab legs," Kress said.
In 2021 at the height of COVID, incidents of organized retail crime jumped by an average of 26.5 percent, according to Alvarez & Marsal's. Store owners say around half of the $94.5 billion lost that year was due to retail shrink, aka stolen merchandise.
Whole Foods Market is similarly seeing a rise in crime to the point that some stores have posted signage in front of empty shelves that used to contain high-dollar items like alcohol and expensive supplements informing customers that they must now ask an employee to retrieve such merchandise from the back room.
"I was kind of surprised at the amount of effort that went into trying to mitigate the situation," said Chris Torossian, a former manager in the bakery department of Whole Foods' San Francisco location.
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