Shoptlifting has hit "crisis point" and is now a $3 billion problem for New Zealand and Australian retailers, a new study reveals.

The study of more than 9000 retailers in New Zealand and across the ditch has revealed crime rampant throughout the retail sector cost businesses AU$3.37b ($3.52b) collectively in the 2018 financial year.

More than 55 per cent of the $3b loss last year accounted to customer theft or shoplifting - a jump of 16 per cent in less than two years.

A major problem retailers face is the vulnerability of self-service checkout counters, which have seen a steady rise in theft in recent years. This has led to measures such as retailers introducing video analytics, including cameras that film customers at each machine.


Aptus Research, the Profit Protection Future Forum ANZ and Checkpoint Systems' joint study into retail crime used a sample size that represents almost a quarter of the Australasian retail industry, of those surveyed it found that crime-related loss in the sector accounted for close to 1 per cent of revenue.

Baby milk formula, meat and face creams were found to be the most commonly stolen items from supermarkets.

Supermarkets had also reported losses of items under $20 occurring more frequently.

Only 20 per cent of retailers said they were happy with law enforcement response to the rise in crime. About 67 per cent of retailers reported that it was difficult to combat shoplifters with their current resources.

The study found criminals were becoming more organised, and there was now a large resale market for stolen goods, including food and champagne being sold to restaurants, and baby formula being sold to China as part of the 'daigou phenomenon'.

City University of London researcher and criminology expert Dr Emmeline Taylor said thieves nowadays could easily get away with petty theft, and they continued to do so as "reward greatly outweighs the risk".

"Thieves are becoming more brazen. We have seen this in the recent "steaming" technique used by gangs to overpower mobile phone shops in broad daylight, often intimidating staff and pushing customers out of the way to reach the stock," Taylor said.

"Many people think that retail crime is a victimless crime – that the large retailers build expected losses into their profit margin - but it couldn't be further from the truth. We calculate that $3.37b is enough to employ 85,000 supermarket checkout staff for a year."


Crime in New Zealand's retail sector alone accounts for $1.1b in losses each year, according to a study by Retail NZ and the University of Otago published in 2017. Of that, $514 million is spent on crime prevention annually.

Retail NZ chief executive Greg Harford said the magnitude of the issue documented in the report in 2017 was still the same today, and the industry continued to see a rise in aggression and violence by thieves.

Retail NZ's half-year report card published last year found in-store violence had grown to become "rampant" throughout the sector, and that dairy owners and those operating retail businesses perceived to hold more physical cash were increasingly becoming targets for retail violence.

In the 2018 year to April 30, there were 28,817 reported "thefts from retail premises", up from a reported 27,676 the year before, according to Police data.

Former Retail NZ chief executive Scott Fisher told the Herald last year that retail crime was getting worse, with goods often stolen to order as part of organised operations.

"Crime is a real issue across the sector, and getting worse," Fisher said.

"There needs to be a Government social change programme to encourage respect for people, property and the law, and the Government needs to act to ensure that there are real consequences for petty offenders in order to break the cycle."

Checkpoint Australia vice president Mark Gentle said theives were getting smarter and retailers neede to adapt to their new tactics to curb the issue.

"Loss prevention technologies are still the best deterrents for opportunistic shoplifters and when combined with good customer service, will often significantly reduce theft in stores."