Tauranga retailers say shoplifters are becoming more brazen and abusive with one claiming she was assaulted by an offender as they fled from the store.
Stacey Handley, manager of Supre women's clothing store, told the Bay of Plenty Times shoplifting was a huge problem at her Devonport Rd shop, resulting in a loss of $31,589 from July 1, 2012 to date.
"On average we catch one to two offenders a day but we know that's not even close to the tip of the iceberg, and it's got a lot worse the past month."
Ms Handley said one of the shop assistants was assaulted by a woman in her mid-20s, who shoved her aside as she escaped the store. "Police were called but they came about 45 minutes later and apart from taking a report nothing was done."
The store had also been hit by a gang of a dozen woman, aged 14 to 30-plus. "The group split up. Half were doing the distracting and the other half were stuffing their bags. We caught some of them in the act and managed to get some of the clothing items back, but there were too many of them and they managed to run off."
Shoplifters were getting more brazen, Ms Handley said.
"They're also not scared of the security cameras, or even slightly worried that the store was full of people, and won't hesitate to shove you out of the way to escape."
She wanted to see security guards patrolling the downtown streets as a deterrent to theft and to help catch runaway shoplifters.
A young shoplifter was held at the store for three hours while staff waited for police to arrive.
"We ended up almost feeling sorry for her and because we close at 5pm we had to let her go home."
Nearby Just Jeans store assistant Naomi Cowland agreed fulltime security guards were needed to help curb the problem.
"It's so hard to detect," she said. "It deters them enough if you just make it obvious that you are watching."
Erick's Just $2 owner Raj Singh estimated he lost $4000 to $10,000 stock a year to shoplifting.
"It's mainly young girls aged 10 to 15 years who come in the store in a group. They target make-up stuff, phone accessories, such as iPod covers, hair products and sunglasses. They're very brazen and not shy about giving me abuse or the fingers when I challenge them, before they run off. It happens a lot in the school holidays and on the weekends."
Tauranga Pak 'N Save owner Dean Waddell said high-value items like beauty and health products or meat and cheese were targeted, meaning staff had to be vigilant.
John Albertson, chief executive of the Retail Association of New Zealand, said half of retail theft was committed by customers and half by staff.
"Sometimes customers and staff tag-team together to steal, which is affectionately known in the industry as 'sweet-hearting'.
"A lot of retailers only achieve about 3 to 4 per cent net profit on sales and when you're losing up to 1.5 per cent that's a huge chunk of money," he said.
It was vital retailers reported offenders to "stop the rot" setting in, he said.
Tauranga police Inspector Karl Wright-St Clair said dishonesty offences made up the bulk of reported crime.
Tauranga Chamber of Commerce chief executive Max Mason said no business was immune to theft.
Figures show nationally retailers lose an estimated $800-$900 million annually.
Downtown Tauranga manager Kirby Weis could not be reached for comment last night.