Anyone who has worked alongside Giant Food President Ira Kress during his more than three decades in the industry would most likely tell you he makes every decision with the customer in mind.
So, to those who know him, it would come as no surprise that Kress is currently sounding the alarm on an increase in theft and violence plaguing his employees and customers.
“I would categorize it as a spiraling problem,” Kress told WGB. “It has escalated immensely—five to 10 times what it was just a mere three to five years ago.”
To deal with the issue, Giant Food, which operates 165 supermarkets in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and Washington, D.C., has increased security, locked up popular items, closed secondary entrances and limited the number of products to be rung up at self-checkouts.
Kress, who has been president of Giant Food since 2019, said those efforts are helpful but will not solve the rising theft problem.
“In my mind the solve for what we're seeing, both in terms of theft and violence, comes by way of laws and the enforcement of them," he said.
Kress is among many other retail executives nationwide who've noted the spike in shrink and have pinned the wave of theft and violence on organized retail crime (ORC).
Defined as large-scale theft of retail merchandise with the intent to resell the items for financial gain, ORC was up 26.5% in 2021, according to the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) National Retail Security Survey.
“When people conjure up what ORC means, they think about these big rings, or gangs. That exists, but these are made up of a bunch of individuals who have learned how to monetize their theft,” Kress said.
The thievery extends well beyond 12-year-old kids stealing candy bars, he said, noting that ORC focuses on razor blades, baby formula, detergent and other higher-priced items.
“What's happening is folks are literally coming in with lists and being told to steal these 20 things,” he said. “And they'll then sell them on various marketplaces.”
These marketplaces exist everywhere—from online platforms to even front lawns across the country, he said.
“Sadly, I was coming down to visit our beach stores this weekend and I was driving through Rehoboth, Delaware, and on a table, actually on eight tables in the front of a person's yard, were nothing but Tide detergents,” he explained. “I'd love to think that the young lady that was sitting out there selling those Tide detergents was just giving them away because she had so many she had bought over the years. The likelihood is it's not true. Unfortunately, there's a willing audience or a broader willing audience today to purchase those products because the reality is, Tide costs a lot of money.”
Kress is not the only one looking to solve this costly problem. According to an NRF survey released in June, half (51%) of consumers surveyed said law enforcement and the courts are too lenient on those who steal from stores.
The survey, in which NRF asked consumers a series of questions relating to crime, retail theft and ORC, also found that 79% of shoppers believe retail theft impacts the price of goods that they buy.
Retailers nationwide have struggled with retail shrink, which is estimated to cost $100 billion annually, the NRF said.
Looking to bring online marketplaces to a higher standard with more transparency, the Federal Trade Commission last month enacted the INFORM Consumers Act.
“The INFORM Consumers Act requires online marketplaces to protect consumers from counterfeit, unsafe and stolen goods by verifying their high-volume, third-party sellers’ identities and making it easier for consumers to report suspicious marketplace activity,” said Samuel Levine, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, in a statement. “The commission will enforce the act to the fullest extent possible and will collaborate with our state partners to hold online marketplaces accountable.”
FMI – The Food Industry Association on Wednesday released its 74th annual “The Food Retailing Industry Speaks” report, revealing that, in some major metropolitan areas, shoplifting “has driven retailers to take severe actions that include closing stores.”
Kress said that solution to theft is not on the table for Giant Food.
“I have zero intention of closing stores as a result of the escalating theft or violence,” he said. “Everything I'm doing is to prevent having to do that. Because that's not good for the community and certainly not good as a business.”