Shoplifting is so rampant in Winnipeg’s stores that national retailers pause before opening stores downtown and police data shows a startling rise over the past year.
Winnipeg saw a 77 per cent increase last year in the theft of store merchandise under $5,000, according to police data.
“Every retailer deals with theft in one degree or another,” John Graham from the Retail Council of Canada (RCC) said.
“These are serious times that require serious focus.”
“When you look, on average, over $172 million annually is stolen from Manitoba retailers,” Graham said. “That’s a $172 million direct impact on consumers, really. It’s enormous.”
Across the country, Canadian retailers lose more than $7.8 billion a year to shoplifters, according to the RCC.
It’s happening in grocery stores, clothing stores and drug stores. No store is immune.
Many Canadian companies say their downtown Winnipeg store is one of their top stores for shoplifting across the country, according to data provided by the RCC.
“Winnipeg in particular is in that Top 5 across the country in pockets of communities,” Graham said. “It has got the attention nationally by our members and (they) are quite concerned.”
It’s so worrisome, some national retailers skip over Winnipeg’s downtown and choose not to open stores here.
“People are concerned about placing stores downtown. You look at some of the retailers that are here and they’ve got experience across the country where downtown is a terrific place to be located,” said Graham.
“In Winnipeg it does give retailers a pause for second thought as far as whether there’s a net benefit to having their location in this area.”
WATCH: Liquor Mart security changes to combat theft problem
Manitoba’s Liquor Marts have been a hot target for thieves for months, if not years. Last week, five youths were arrested after stealing hundreds of bottles of booze. While liquor stores have been a focus, they are not the exception.
“You look at some top items in grocery stores….it’s cheese, meats, baby formula, shavers, razor blades. Things that are valuable and highly convertible,” said Graham.
“It’s high fashion. You look at electronics.. (that’s) a target as well and it’s items that are popular that can be sold for alternately the cash or drugs that individuals are looking for.”
It has gone beyond just a crime of opportunity, Graham said. Thieves have become more organized and now often go in with a particular list of items they are looking for.
Many stores have multiple security guards, some even hire special police constables. However, now even more than ever, retailers are investing hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, in being proactive instead of reactive.
They are hiring companies to look at store layouts and make it more difficult to run out the door with stolen goods, said Graham.
“It’s staff there is more dedicated to technologies, there is significant work going around on how to lay out a store to minimize theft, limited inventory, low profile displays, products behind counters and samples on display. It’s all part of what a retailer is considering now.”
WATCH: ‘It’s quadrupled;’ Food Fare owner says brazen thefts not limited to Manitoba Liquor Marts