Organized retail crime (ORC)

It’s easy to view shoplifting as an opportunistic crime. Someone sees an opportunity to grab whatever they can before making their getaway. While this may be the case for some shoplifters, like unruly school children in a convenience store, it isn’t a fair representation of the varied criminal landscape that occurs in shoplifting.

For one, it’s a far more coordinated crime than many people realize. According to the organized retail crime survey, organized shoplifting has been growing year-over-year since 2015, reaching record highs in 2020, with 75% of retailers noticing an increase in 2020[1].

So, why is this important for retailers, since knowing who steals a product doesn’t change the fact that it’s a lost product? At Checkpoint, we think that it’s essential that retailers determine who is stealing from them, as organized shoplifters act differently than opportunistic ones.


High-theft products

Organized thieves steal certain products, known as high-theft items. Some of these products are perennial favorites because they are small and therefore easy to take and have a high resale value. These products include razors, cosmetics, batteries, and alcohol. Recent trends have also seen an increase in the theft of fresh produce such as meat and cheese. Increasingly, even larger bulkier items such as household electrical goods, are brazenly removed from the store.

Another difference is the scale of the theft. Organized shoplifters steal at scale, often clearing shelves and taking everything on-shelf. These criminals will also travel from store to store, taking the same items at each one. To these people, shoplifting is big business.

Finally, organized thieves are less likely to be deterred, especially by what they may see as superficial security practices[2]. It’s therefore vital that retailers who suspect that they are being targeted by organized retail criminals take the necessary steps to protect themselves.


A solution for every problem

There is a wide range of different RF label types available for the wide selection of products to be protected, including for frozen products, labels that are microwave oven safe, and labels that have passed strict safety standards for direct application to fresh foods. RF labelling options far outstrip the options available for other EAS technologies.

Larger benefit denial style protection is also widely deployed onto a large range of potentially at-risk products, in the form of an additional level of protection, or inconvenience, to the would-be thief. These come in a wide variety of formats all designed to increase the level of time and complexity required in-store by the thief to overcome the protection on the product. Bottle caps, acrylic display boxes (keepers) around the products, wire-bound tags (spiders) around boxes all go to adding a level of complexity that reinforces the deterrent aspect, pushing the risk and reward dynamic back in favour of the store retailer.

Within these devices, there are additional layers of complexity to help deter the theft attempts, including coded unlocking mechanisms and physically stronger locks. Our Alpha High Theft Division focuses on the development of these type of solutions, to stay ahead of the criminal community.

There are choices of more discreet hidden tagging options, where the RF tag is located inside the packaging or more overt tagging, where a clearly visible tag, sometimes even with the RF circuit itself and a security message is written onto the label.

More opportunistic thieves will attempt to remove these labels in-store. Even greater protection against theft can be provided by using RF labels purposely designed to be hard to remove in-store such as the Shield Tag which can slow down the removal process by up to 10x without impacting on the product branding.


Time to start tagging

Studies show that the additional deterrent aspect of a visible label does have a positive impact on individual product line shrinkage when compared to more discreet, hidden tagging methods[3]. These results link back again to the overall risk and reward dynamic (chapter 4) and changing the mindset at the point of decision to steal or not.

When piloting our EAS technology with a new customer, we make sure that we start by targeting these high-theft items. After all these are the products that retailers are most likely wanting to protect. By using these products as our test cases, we can get a true picture of the impact of EAS tagging, and the subsequent ROI from any system deployed.


Next time…

We’ve looked at the technology behind EAS and the types of tags available. Next, we’ll shift our focus toward the process of apply the tags and labels to the products. One of these methods is source tagging, applying the tags during the manufacturing process, typically at the factory. This approach has many advantages, and we’ll look at them more closely in the next chapter.




[1] NRF, Organized Retail Crime Survey, December 2020

[2] Sidebottom, A., Thornton, A., Tompson, L. et al. A systematic review of tagging as a method to reduce theft in retail environmentsCrime Sci 6, 7 (2017)

[3] Sidebottom, A., Thornton, A., Tompson, L. et al. A systematic review of tagging as a method to reduce theft in retail environmentsCrime Sci 6, 7 (2017)