The increase in food prices coupled with the escalating cost in the standard of living are being blamed for a significant rise in shoplifting at supermarkets across the country, says president of the Supermarkets Association of T&T Rajiv Diptee.
From slipping baby formula under clothing to emptying cooking oil in empty water bottles, Diptee explained to the Business Guardian that these are just a few in a slew of items which are being lifted off the shelves of grocery stores.
“It’s any and every item that people are stealing and once it can fit in their clothing or where ever else, they stick it in there and simply walk way.
“And if the item is too large to cart way, they ‘break it down’ to steal it,” Diptee added.
And the situation has become so onerous that supermarket owners have been forced to fork out significant sums to beef-up security including investing in additional surveillance equipment and hiring more security officers.
“As people have become poorer, we have been seeing that the very vulnerable have been shifting to a life of crime and that is something that needs to be taken into account stemming from this recession or depression taking place in the country,” Diptee said.
He noted that there have been instances where basic items like a loaf of bread is stolen, which sometimes renders sympathy from supermarket owners.
But this is not the case for all.
“Where we try to help, we help, but we cannot help every one,” Diptee added.
He said while theft occur almost “every other day” many however, go unreported as the process--from start to finish--in bringing perpetrators to justice is often lengthy.
“If, for instance, a man steals a bottle of coffee, I have to take the time to file the report, then I have to go to court for however long etc. So does that really make sense for a bottle of coffee? That’s why a lot of this goes unreported,” Diptee said.
However, he noted that businesses have developed their own systems and networking in dealing with this scourge.
Photos derived from CCTV capturing pilferers are circulated among the various establishments, alerting owners to be on the look out for would-be thieves, Diptee said.
But he noted that as incidents increase so too has the fear.
“You see in these single-type run groceries where people come in with guns and take every thing from the draw. Every one is now living with this kind of fear,” Diptee added.
Echoing similar sentiments Vernon Persad of Persad’s D Food King who told Business Guardian that thieves have become more brazen, operating in well-organised gangs.
“Up to Saturday we have seen a very strange group of people who are going around. So you now have a lot of professional shoplifting taking place,” Persad added.
He added they are targeting “high value goods” like ghee, olive oil, powered milk, powered laundry detergent and baby formula to resell “on the outside” at a cheaper rate either on the streets or in their respective communities.
“They are not stealing a chubby or a pack of ping pong. It’s any item that can fetch a high price. A tin of baby milk is more than $100 so if they steal six of those it’s about a $1,000 and they could easily resell it for about $500 because there is a market for it,” Persad explained.
He also agreed this has resulted in further security costs which are then unfortunately, passed on to the customers.
“In addition to cameras you now have to get security to walk your lanes. When you go to any supermarket you are seeing the number of security guards that they now have,” Persad said, adding that he too has been spending a “significant amount” to protect his goods.
He cited that security is the third or in some cases the second highest cost for supermarkets.
The number one, he said, is usually salaries followed by utility expenditure.
And while admitting pilfering has always been occurring, Persad also agreed with Diptee that as the economy gets tougher so too has the financial situation of many which has been contributing to stealing at supermarkets.
“Some don’t have a job, some don’t have regular number of working hours and their cost of living keeps going up. It is understood that people have to live but in addition to needs where people would have shoplifted due to impoverished situations, there is now a combination of those being poor and those who are professional thieves. Those who see this as a lucrative trade,” Persad further explained.
Some of these “professionals” he added are often “all decked off in all spandex” and move in groups, placing themselves at strategic locations throughout the supermarket.
“Some will block the cameras with their backs with the others will put the items in clothing and move out the store. We have a monitoring centre which was able to pick this up and alert us,” Persad said.
On reporting to the police, he said officers are “bombarded” by reports also noting that catching thieves remain challenging on different levels.
‘There’s the whole element of proof, then there’s identifying the persons, then there’s identifying the item, there’s the issue of the camera footage and admissibility of that in court. So all this have its constraints,” Persad said.
He also expressed concerned that the situation could worsen given increased gas prices which could further propel some people into further impoverishment.
Massy Stores, however, said it has not noticed a “marked increase” in pilfering.
David Affonso, executive chairman of the Massy Group’s Integrated Retail Business Unit who spoke to the Business Guardian at the recent opening of its Brentwood location, said Massy continues to be guard against thieves.
“It is certainly a cost we don’t need, but by and large there’s an element of that, but it’s very few and we have a number of measures in place in terms of security systems like cameras and the physical presence of both uniform and non-uniform security officers in the store to pick this up pretty quickly,” Affonso explained.
While he emphasised that Massy has not noticed any significant increases in pilfering Affonso said one can understand that it “could become significant” as things get tighter.