Professional shoplifting "gangs" from Auckland posing as families are travelling north targeting Whangarei businesses as Christmas thefts start to bite retailers.
Manager of the Strand Mall on Cameron St, Merv Williams, said shoplifters typically targeted clothes and were also helped by some retailers who displayed items of value beside store front doors.
"You get all sorts of excuses [from shoplifters]. Some of them take it as being their right, 'I can't afford it and I need it'."
The loss could be significant for some retailers, he said.
Mr Williams said that when some recent shoplifters had been identified on arrest, police discovered they had travelled from Auckland.
He said the Strand had a zero tolerance on shoplifting and anyone caught was immediately referred to police and prosecuted.
Whangarei police confirmed they were working with retailers to ensure they have the skills to deal with thieves in a bid to beat the Christmas shoplifting rush and to "take back ownership" of their stores.
Area commander Whangarei and Kaipara, Inspector Tracy Phillips, said skilled shoplifters plying their trade in Whangarei weren't just from Auckland, but from other parts of the country also.
Alcohol, meat, electrical items and in some cases, large goods such as TV sets were stolen from reasonable people simply making a living, she said.
"These [shoplifters] are unemployed, but motivated, and are pretty good at what they're doing."
Ms Phillips said the police Area Prevention Team was working with high-risk retail premises to reduce thefts.
Police patrols in central Whangarei have also increased.
Ms Phillips said police were also helping store staff learn how to deal with thieves before they left the store. She said a person did not have to walk out of a store with an item without paying for it to be theft.
"The second somebody puts an item into their bag or up their jumper with the intent of stealing it, theft has been committed. They don't have to come out of the store with it.
"A trespass notice issued by a chain store could ban that person from all of the chain's stores in the whole of Northland for up to two years and are an effective tool in dealing with shoplifters. If a shoplifter is issued with several they could find it impossible to shop in town and would have to do all their shopping online, or go to another region."
She said retailers who felt uncomfortable with shoppers, or suspected them to be shoplifters, should ask them to leave and if they refused, police should be called.
Retailers throughout the country lost hundreds of millions annually through shoplifting.