Retail giant Target announced it will permanently close nine stores across four states, citing an alarming rise in theft, organized retail crime, and unsafe conditions for employees and customers. The affected stores are located in major cities in California, Oregon, Washington and New York.
The closures come as retailers across the country struggle to contain increasing theft that is eating into profits. While crime rates do not appear to be growing significantly higher, the current economic climate of high inflation and rising interest rates tends to correlate with more opportunistic shoplifting, according to industry experts. However, retailers indicate they are most concerned about brazen, repeated thefts by sophisticated criminal rings that resell stolen merchandise through online marketplaces.
Target stated that despite implementing enhanced security measures and other anti-theft tools, the selected stores have experienced unacceptable levels of crime that make sustaining operations impossible. The nine locations slated for closure on October 21 include three in San Francisco and Oakland, three in Portland, two in Seattle, and one in East Harlem, New York City. The retailer pledged to assist affected employees by offering transfers to nearby stores.
Rash of Retail Thefts Plague Cities Nationwide
Target is just one of many national retail chains sounding the alarm on organized theft rings. In recent months, major retailers Nordstrom, CVS, and Whole Foods have shuttered some locations in San Francisco citing unchecked shoplifting. Dollar Tree executives even hinted they may stop selling certain products prone to theft in some crime-ridden areas. However, one Walgreens executive stated earlier this year the company may have exaggerated the shoplifting problems at some stores.
While hard statistics on retail crime trends are difficult to obtain, the National Retail Federation (NRF) released survey data on Tuesday showing retailers reported an average shrink rate of 1.6% of total sales in 2022, up from 1.4% in 2021. The industry trade group estimates shrinkage – representing combined losses from theft, fraud, administrative errors, vendor fraud, and other losses – cost retailers over $112 billion last year, up nearly $20 billion from 2021.
NRF Vice President of Research Development Mark Mathews notes nearly 80% of shrinkage stems from external theft and fraud. “Retailers are seeing more incidents of opportunistic theft from individuals, rather than highly organized retail crime,” said Mathews. However, he added sophisticated theft rings reselling stolen goods online remain a top concern.
Violent Crime Also On the Rise
Retailers report not only increasing incidents of theft, but also more brazen attacks and violent confrontations when attempting intervention. Despite their substantial financial investments in security and theft-deterrence technology, retailers often feel helpless to stop the rampant shoplifting aided by lax enforcement and prosecution in some cities.
For example, under California’s Proposition 47 passed in 2014, the theft of property valued under $950 was downgraded from a felony to a misdemeanor. According to law enforcement experts, judges frequently release serial shoplifters back onto the streets with no bail required under new criminal justice reform laws aimed at reducing incarceration rates. This creates an environment conducive to repeat offenses without meaningful consequences.
“When Target calls out crime and says it’s closing stores because of it, it’s a blow to the community,” said retail expert Burt Flickinger, managing director of Strategic Resource Group. Beyond lost tax revenues that fund schools and city services, the economic fallout from a large retailer exiting a neighborhood can be far-reaching.
Flickinger explains the closure often triggers a downward cycle of decreased foot traffic, lost jobs and wages, departing suppliers, and lack of investment. “These locations served important roles in their communities. But Target can only operate successfully if the working and shopping environment is safe,” he added.
Small Businesses Also Under Siege
In recent months, brazen “smash-and-grab” robberies plagued luxury retailers in California and other western states. Video footage showed masked thieves rushing into stores, grabbing expensive merchandise, and fleeing quickly. High-end stores in San Francisco and Los Angeles were repeatedly targeted by such crime mobs.
But independent and small neighborhood stores are also reeling from the rampant theft. On Tuesday morning, about 200 small business owners in Oakland, California shuttered their stores for two hours and rallied for increased public safety measures.
Carl Chan, president of Oakland’s Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, made an impassioned plea for more local policing and prosecutor crackdowns on retail crime. “When I say people don’t feel safe, it’s not only about the businesses,” said Chan. He noted convenience stores and other small shops are being robbed daily, forcing many to close.
Statistics from the Oakland Police Department confirm commercial burglaries soared 76% between 2021 and 2022. Long-time Oakland restaurant owner Greg McConnell lamented, “This restaurant survived the crack epidemic. This restaurant survived Occupy Oakland and the riots. This restaurant survived the pandemic. But this restaurant can’t survive crime.”
Meanwhile in Philadelphia, brazen looters ransacked several retailers on Tuesday night following an unrelated court ruling that sparked protests. Interim Philadelphia Police Commissioner John Stanford reported multiple store break-ins and thefts but said they did not appear connected to demonstrations over the court decision. Several suspects described as teens and young adults were detained.
Communities Seek Solutions
In response to the small business rally, the City of Oakland outlined several public safety programs in the works. These include expanded foot patrols around retail areas, community safety ambassador grants, enhanced business security assistance, and video surveillance investments. But business owners argue more needs to be done to increase police presence and restore a lawful environment.
Retail security experts recommend a combination of strengthened law enforcement efforts and retailers exploring creative solutions. More secure merchandise displays, high-tech sensors, security guards, and anti-theft technology can help deter crimes of opportunity. Deep community partnerships, store ambassador programs, and social services outreach can also have positive impacts.
But if brazen mass robberies, violent attacks, and rampant serial shoplifting continue unchecked, retailers will have little choice but to limit operations or close up shop entirely. This in turn reduces consumer access to goods, eliminates jobs, and harms the economic health of already struggling communities. Resolving the retail crime crisis will require collaboration among retailers, law enforcement agencies, community groups, technology innovators, and elected officials.