Retail Theft & Violence: Protecting Your Business this Holiday Season

November 23, 2023
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As Canadians ramp up for another holiday season, retail business owners are preparing for their busiest time of year. With in-store foot traffic increasing, organized crime rings are taking the opportunity to fly under the radar and strike. 

Toronto police say they have seen a rise in crimes targeting retail spaces, with some appearing to be organized crime.

“Organized retail crime poses significant safety risks to store employees and consumers, and it leads to the sale of stolen and counterfeit goods,” TPS Board Chair Ann Morgan says.

While high-end items often come to mind when consumers think of retail theft, items like baby formula and over-the-counter medications, among other health and beauty items, are items of interest for thieves. These stolen goods threaten the health and safety of those who purchase them off-market, as there is no way to verify the item is as advertised or run the risk of being tampered with. 

Rui Rodrigues, executive advisor for the Retail Council of Canada, said that while traditional shoplifting is a problem, it typically involves individuals stealing single items for their own personal use. Increasingly, stores are seeing individuals stealing large volumes of items for resale, sometimes at the behest of people operating illicit online storefronts where they can sell the stolen goods.

“Nobody needs to steal a case of baby formula if it is for their own personal consumption,” Rodrigues said. He said stores have also seen an increasing amount of violence since the pandemic, and that trend has continued.

“A shoplifting incident is not the same as a retail crime that carries assault or robbery, and we see more and more of that,” Rodrigues said. “So part of what we see growing with organized retail crime is a diversion in how they operate. There are professional groups that steal, and it is an enterprise.”

Rodrigues says storefront workers – not just those employed at large retailers with multiple locations- are seeing an unprecedented amount of violence. As Canadians head into the holiday season, retail theft tends to target higher-value gift items, but theft continues to affect all retail sectors.

A release from Crime Stoppers calls retail theft “a profitable criminal enterprise that costs Canadian retailers approximately $5 billion a year.”

However, Toronto Police Chief Myron Demkiw said the impact goes beyond the businesses.

“These crimes cost all of us because they drive up the prices on products that we purchase on a regular basis,” Demkiw said. “Organized retail crime may not be something the average person thinks about very often. However, it is a growing problem across Canada. And it impacts all of us in different ways.” Demkiw estimates that two out of every five organized retail crimes involve violence.

“These are not victimless crimes,” Demkiw adds. “In some cases, they pose a significant risk to the safety of our communities, including employees in a retail, and consumers who may be present when these crimes occur.”

To make your retail business less vulnerable to crime, the Retail Council of Canada has organized a list of frequently mentioned tips for retailers and staff to improve safety, limit criminal activity, and improve safety.

Retail Safety & Security Guide

  • Use LED lighting inside and outside the business by all entrances/exits. Use continuous lighting from inside to the end of the business’ exterior property line. 
  • Have a visible street address. 
  • Ensure there are no obstructed sightlines from the street or within the store. 
  • Position CCTV cameras to view all cash registers and entrances/exits at a minimum and store data for 30 days before being deleted. However, the recommendation is 90 days of recording. 
  • Display signs indicating the business has video surveillance. 
  • Install a security alarm system. 
  • Use a time-delayed safe. 
  • Remove all cash from the registers after closing and lock it in a safe or make a deposit. Additionally, cash registers visible from the street should be left empty and open at close to show potential perpetrators that there is nothing in them. 
  • Lock all doors and windows after closing or when not in use. 
  • Ensure no items surrounding the building may be used to gain access, such as building supplies or any items that can break down a door or window.
  • Treat external windows with a commercial-grade film that prevents breakage. 
  • Place gift cards by cashiers or behind a counter within the store that is accessible only to store employees. 
  • Situate point of sale (POS) machines as well as Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) close to cashiers or other workstations (no more than 20 feet away), in a sightline of a CCTV camera, and in a visible part of the store that is well lit. 
  • Install security stands or place security cables on each POS machine. 
  • Ensure no items are in front of gift card stands, POS machines, or ATMs for employees for CCTV cameras to film if an incident occurs. 

The rising incidents of retail theft in Canada are a concern for both businesses and consumers. However, by implementing the right strategies, your business can significantly reduce vulnerability to crime. Remember to invest in security systems, train employees on theft prevention, maintain clear visibility in your store, and build a strong relationship with law enforcement. Stay vigilant and informed so we can create a safer shopping environment for consumers and employees alike.



Retail Council of Canada

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