Retail New Zealand is calling on the Government to set up a police taskforce to combat retail crime and introduce spot-fines for petty offences.
Retail crime costs the country about $1 billion a year in losses.
"Retail crime is a serious problem for retailers, consumers and the economy as a whole," said Retail NZ's general manager for public affairs Greg Harford.
"Retailers are already working to prevent and deter crime, but retail crime is growing, becoming more menacing and more violent. Criminal gangs are increasingly active in retail crime, and urgent steps are needed."
The organisation called for a "three-point action plan", which included a national Retail Crime Taskforce within the police, a social-change programme, and an infringement notice penalty regime for petty offences.
Harford said the infringements for less serious crime wouldn't tie up resources.
"Theft as part of an organised crime group needs to be treated extremely seriously and robust prison terms should apply to those committing crimes for a gang or syndicate. At the same time, we recognise that many people drift into organised crime gangs because they have been able to get away with petty theft without any consequences.
"Prosecutions through the courts are cumbersome, and we, therefore, propose the introduction of an infringement-style offence for petty theft. This will ensure that there are real consequences for people starting their life of crime, and act as a deterrent to repeat offending.
Retail NZ is proposing a $500 fine where the value of the stolen property is less than $250; $750 when it is between $250 and $500; and $1250 when it is between $500 and $1000.
Harford said the penalties would be imposed in much the same way that speeding tickets are issued.
But when an offender received more than two infringement notices, or where the theft is committed as part of an organised criminal gang, Retail NZ said stronger penalties should apply, including imprisonment.
A taskforce would require dedicated funding, and targets for retail crime reduction, Harford said.
"There is a real issue around police responsiveness to retail crime.
"Police can achieve real success when resources are available to allow officers to focus on specific outcomes.
"We believe that this is an essential first step to ensure that the police is in a position to respond effectively to retail crime."
Harford said retail crime was part of a broader social problem relating to anti-social behaviour.
"There is a perception in some parts of the community that theft and other anti-social behaviour is acceptable, but we need to be teaching everyone in society that it is important to respect both people and property. A social change programme is needed to generate understanding that theft is simply not acceptable.
"Retailers are already taking significant steps to manage crime, but we need government support and social change to achieve fundamental improvements. We're calling on the Government and all political parties to support our action plan for change".
'It looked like after the earthquake'
In less than two minutes, criminals had ram raided Mark Carter's Christchurch store and taken thousands of dollars' worth of goods.
They drove a car through the front doors of Anderson & Hill Sportspower at 3am last October, before reversing another car through the shattered facade.
They stole more than $70,000 worth of sporting goods.
"Staff stress levels were high," Carter said.
"The place looked much like it did after the earthquakes a few years ago. Our staff were pretty good at trying to go on with business as usual, working around the mess but everyone was pretty stressed.
"We had to wait for the police crime team to finish their inspection before we could get into the store. Despite the chaos, we just had to trade, it was going to be a busy day for us."
Carter estimated the damage to the building and the value of the stolen goods was about $100,000.
He has nine CCTV cameras and an alarm system in the shop.
A neighbouring store was ram raided a week later.
The community rallied around the store and police caught the alleged culprits.
"There is no point moping, we just have to get on with it," Carter said.
"But having your store broken into and damaged, and having your goods taken ... it's really not a pleasant experience as a store owner."