Will Cupchik, Ph.D., author ofWhy Honest People Shoplift or Commit Other Acts of Theft, knows his stuff. So does Retail Forward, Inc., the global retail market research and consulting firm. Their separate studies indicate a sharp rise in shoplifting activity, beginning this past holiday season and extending throughout this year.

Dr. Cupchik cites trauma related to the events of September 11th, stress and financial pressures due to the ailing economy and widespread unemployment as leading factors driving the anticipated increase of retail shoplifting.

Pushing Honesty

Based on his nearly three decades of clinical forensic research, Dr. Cupchik has developed the Loss Substitution By Shoplifting Hypothesis. First published in the Bulletin of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, Dr. Cupchik hypothesizes that in the majority of cases of stealing by usually honest persons, the individuals involved have experienced what they considered unfair, personally meaningful losses of persons (e.g., spouses, children), places (e.g., homes) or things (including the health of themselves or significant others). Acts of shoplifting often result in response to this perceived meaningful, unfair loss.

"When some people are highly stressed, they may be inclined to steal, whereas under more normal circumstances they would not. These findings are of particular relevance at this time generally, and in New York City in particular," Dr. Cupchik contends.

Among Dr. Cupchick's findings:

  • Most consumers try to compensate themselves for the difficulties and stresses they experience through food, drink or other material items. In markedly abnormal, highly stressful times, this behavior increases and often leads to increased instances of shoplifting.
  • Certain regions of the country, including economically depressed areas and socially isolated areas, are more susceptible to increases in shoplifting. These include large cities such as New York City, Boston, Washington and Los Angeles.

A study commissioned by Checkpoint Systems from Retail Forward, Inc., forecasts that the current economic downturn will increase inventory shrinkage from shoplifting by $1 billion in 2002. The report illustrates that in contrast to the slow growth in shoplifting that coincided with the economic boom of the 1990s, the current depressed economic climate will lead to a pronounced rise in shoplifting. The economic model developed for this study indicates that over time, shoplifting can best be explained by three variables: unemployment claims, the savings rate and retail prices.

The study goes on to show that over the period from 1970 to the present:

  • Rises in unemployment claims were accompanied by an increase in shoplifting.
  • The falloff in shoplifting that began in the early 1990s coincided with a marked decline in the saving rate as incomes and wealth soared.
  • Shoplifting tended to rise during periods of high inflation and rises in the price of consumer goods.

The study also indicates that there is a definable link between shoplifting and age. Fifty-eight percent of persons arrested for theft in 2000 were under the age of 25. Persons between the ages of 15 and 24 represented the highest share of persons arrested for theft in 2000, indicating that shoplifting will rise.

"What we learned from our research, and the economic model on which our study was based, is that the uptick in shoplifting activity will be with us for at least as long as the economy continues to be in the doldrums," said Frank Badillo, senior retail economist, Retail Forward, Inc.

For SECURITY Magazine readers, a revised version of Dr. Cupchik's book, Why Honest People Shoplift or Commit Other Acts of Theft, can be downloaded in its entirety as an ebook, through www.booklocker.com/bookpages/shoplift.html.