We spoke to a Spanish loss prevention manager about the four products most popular with thieves
Buying a chocolate bar at the supermarket is no longer a straightforward affair. It now involves going to the shelves, picking up a huge multipack and taking it to the checkout so the cashier can open it and hand you one of the bars from inside.
This is now common practice in many Spanish supermarkets, as it’s the most effective way of preventing the theft of one of the most-stolen objects by shoplifters. The downside of this solution is that thousands of potential buyers are put off by the tedious process and abandon the purchase, causing the supermarkets to lose lots of money.
The solution becomes the problem: an impediment to theft ends up being an impediment to purchase.
Spain ranks sixth in worldwide supermarket theft, below Japan, China, Finland and Holland. Mexico takes first place with 1.68% of total products stolen. Javier Blanco, head of Loss Prevention at AECOC – one of the largest associations of manufacturers and distributors in Spain – talked to us about conditioning free access for consumers:
‘It’s true that it’s almost impossible to steal a product that’s in a display case, but putting a product behind glass also generates an extremely high rate of shopping abandonment. 40% of people give up buying a product if it’s behind glass.’
According to the latest official data, the unknown loss in large distribution represents 0.8% of all sales. It represents losses of €1.6b for the sector. CCTV, security guards at exits and fraud detection software at checkouts are all used in an attempt to avoid losses stemming from three main causes:
External theft: Theft by people outside the company (represents 62% of the total.)
Internal theft: Theft by employees of the company (represents 22% of the total.)
Errors of management: Losses resulting from unintentional management failures (represent 16% of the total.)
These days, most goods are stolen by professional thieves rather than hungry shoplifters. These career criminals tend to target products that are easiest to sell in illegal markets.
‘80% of theft is professional, and the primary destination of these products is resale in illegal markets. This is the primary concern for distributors. The problem is when the thief makes shoplifting into a way of life and steals repeatedly. In addition, it’s important to remember that many cases of theft involve threats or violence towards employees, provoking fear among staff and shoppers.’
Below is a list of the most frequently stolen food items in Spanish supermarkets:
1. Alcoholic beverages
71% of food distributors affirm that alcoholic beverages are among the most stolen products.
2. Meat, fish and charcuterie
42% of distributors say that these types of products are the most popular with thieves.
3. Canned food
35% of distributors say that cans are the most highly targeted items.
4. Chocolates and sweets
For 21% of distributors, these are the most stolen goods.
More than half of the companies claim that they report fewer than 15% of instances of shoplifting to the police. 71% of companies say that the low effectiveness of convictions is the primary reason thefts aren’t reported. 58% say that the excessive amount of time required to make a formal complaint is the reason they fail to report cases of shoplifting.
A reform in the Spanish penal code has been welcomed by supermarkets. Until recently, stealing in Spain was relatively consequence-free.
‘The reform of the penal code, which came into force on 15 July 2015, hardens the penalties for shoplifting and robbery and, above all, for the recidivism and professionalism of criminal gangs who are the main problem. It’s still too soon to see if the change will have a significant impact, but it looks as if it will help reduce theft.’
Despite these changes however, the industry says that more must be done. Shoplifting is now considered a crime in all cases, although up to €400 it is still viewed as a minor offence. In the end, these steps have been taken primarily to tackle repeat offenders; prison sentences will only be an option after the fourth incidence of theft.