Panic buying, shoplifting and aggression: How Covid changed the face of retail

Shoplifting and employee theft increased dramatically since before Covid. It even changed what people stole, according to a study by Griffith University.

Apr 11, 2023, updated Apr 11, 2023
Covid changed what Australians stole

Covid changed what Australians stole

One of the author’s of the report, Griffith’s Professor Michael Townsley said the retail sector in Australia and New Zealand lost about $4.3 billion a year through theft, a 28 per cent increase on four years ago when the last study was done.

Customers stole more than half of the total while employees took about a quarter. Staff also tended to steal more expensive items. The impact of robbery, however, was lower and there appeared to be a shift away from armed robbery.

Townsley said customer theft was on average worth about $415 while employee theft averaged $1200.

There had also been there had also been cultural and economic shifts since the Covid-19 pandemic which forced many businesses to adopt online trading, while at the same time dealing with panic buying, supply chain disruption, lock-downs, and personnel shortages.  

“Retailers reported an increase in customer aggression and violent incidents during the height of Covid-19 and since verbal abuse and violence without injury are likely to go unreported, the increase is likely higher than official statistics suggest,” Townsley said.  

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“It is fascinating to know the types of items most targeted for theft which include things such as fresh meat, make-up, sports-related clothing, batteries, and connection devices.

“We found thieves employ an extensive range of methods, and their techniques evolve to circumvent each improvement in store and product security.  

“However, the most frequently cited methods of theft were not very sophisticated, such as distracting staff while the item is taken, concealing an item on their person, or simply walking straight out of the store.”  



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