The latest recorded crime statistics released by the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) show that in the first half of 2023, retail theft returned to pre-pandemic levels, with liquor the most frequently reported item stolen.
Liquor was recorded as being stolen in 37% of retail theft incidents in 2022/23 and this has increased in the past five years (up 422 incidents). High value spirits such as bourbon, whiskey and vodka are the most commonly stolen types of liquor.
The average value of items stolen in liquor theft incidents in 2022/23 was $162.10. The most expensive item stolen was valued at $12,500.
Retail theft fell substantially during the pandemic. In the last two years to June 2023, recorded incidents of retail theft recovered faster than any other property crime, increasing 48% from 2021/22 to 2022/23.
Licenced premises and general wholesalers have seen the biggest increase in steal from retail incidents over the past five years. In the year to June 2023, licenced premises accounted for 17% or 4280 incidents.
BOCSAR Executive Director Jackie Fitzgerald said incidents of retail theft fell dramatically coincident with the first COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020, and increased steadily from late-2021.
“There have been concerns that high inflation and rising cost of living have triggered a surge in shoplifting, but the view of retail theft presented by Police data does not support this. If emerging external factors like cost of living were driving an increase in retail theft, we would expect theft volumes to be noticeably higher than pre-pandemic levels,” she said.
From January to June 2023, recorded incidents of retail theft were equivalent with (and not above) 2019 figures. This was true for both Greater Sydney and regional NSW.
While young people aged 14 to 17 years have the highest rate of prosecutions for retail theft by population, they account for only 15% of all legal actions. In 2022/23, men accounted for 59% of legal actions for retail theft.
In NSW, the areas with the highest rates of shoplifting compared with their population in Greater Sydney included the City and Inner South, the Eastern Suburbs, and Blacktown. The Far West and Orana, the Illawarra, the Riverina, New England, and Newcastle record the highest rates in the state’s regional areas.
The rising cost of retail theft? Trends in steal from retail to June 2023 concluded by saying that police only had a limited view of retail theft due to many incidents not being reported.
“Drawing on what is reported to NSW Police, the findings of this report suggest that the recent increase in retail theft is more likely to be a recovery from COVID-19 related crime falls,” BOSCAR said.
“While rising cost of living pressures and organised crime involvement may be playing a part in how quickly retail theft volumes rebounded, this paper does not find evidence to suggest these factors have driven retail theft above what was occurring prior to the pandemic.”
Shoplifting rampant across Australia
The most recent Australia and New Zealand Retail Crime Study reported that customer theft accounted for half of all crime-related losses experienced by businesses (53%), with the total value of all retail theft amounting to $2.3 billion in the
2021/22 financial year.
The National Retail Association estimates that less than 20% of retail crimes are reported to police. Retail crime, such as shoplifting, robbery and vandalism, costs Australian businesses up to $9 billion each year.
Last month the Australian Financial Review reported: “Retail theft or shoplifting has become a big drag on the profits of ASX retailers this earnings season.
Ritchies IGA Supermarket CEO Fred Harrison told ABC radio national in July, that there had been “significant increase in shoplifting” amid the rise in cost-of-living pressures.
He says a carload of five youths recently turned up at one of their stores in Narre Warren, Melbourne, grabbed slabs of beer took them without paying, and drove off. Detectives in their stores were catching twice as many people as they were 12 to 18 months ago.
Across the Pacific, youth crime in New Zealand is skyrocketing and some retailers now have full-time guards in stores on the north island.
They are also investing in full cannon screamer alarms, DNA spray that gets sprinkled on criminals to track them and bombproof glass.
Bottle shop ramraids are also seeing stores cleaning up hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of damage in addition to liquor being stolen.