Supermarket chains are losing goods worth Sh3.5 billion annually to shoplifters — equivalent to half the money that Garissa County received from the National Treasury for this financial year.
Crimes range from the theft of a few items by dishonest shoppers to organised gangs that lift huge quantities of goods, turning shoplifting into a cottage industry and threatening the survival of big stores.
Looking every bit like customers and working in gangs of five or six, the shoplifters position themselves strategically near the shelves where small but valuable products like jewellery, perfumes, cosmetics, soaps and electronic goods are displayed.
As their accomplices engage and distract shop assistants and merchandisers, their accomplices stuff stolen items into expandable bags under their clothes secured by waist bands. Some even put the stolen items under their hats.
According to the Retail Trade Association of Kenya, major retailers across the country are estimated to be losing Sh3.5 billion worth of stock.
“When they are arrested, they are taken to the police stations and released on cash bail, which is normally a drop in the ocean compared with the value of the loot. To them, shoplifting is worth the risk,” says Nakumatt Holdings Chief Executive Officer Atul Shah.
However, the Kenya Police Service Police spokesperson, Ms Gatiria Mboroki, defended officers, saying they cooperate with the retailers’ security officers and it was unfair to make such allegations against the police.
According to her, no retailer has recorded such complaints against the police and she asked them to report corrupt officers to the Independent Policing Oversight Authority.
A single shoplifter, according to Mr Shah, is capable of stealing goods worth Sh25,000. A gang of five, he said, can easily walk out with goods worth Sh100,000 on a single mission. The problem with the law is that shoplifters are treated as petty offenders and are usually released on a Sh3,000 to Sh5,000 bond, setting them free to return to their illegal activities.
Mr Shah said in the last stock take, Nakumatt found that it had lost about 1.5 per cent of its stock with shoplifting being the leading cause. He said the chain could be losing up to six per cent of its goods to “stock shrinkage”, the industry term for theft. The supermarket also loses goods retained at police stations as exhibits.
“With time, these products expire, get lost or lose value and considering the number of shoplifters arrested, it is a huge loss,” said Mr Shah.
Tuskys Chief Operating Officer Peter Leparachao said the losses were higher when one factors in the cost of measures aimed at reducing the crime.
“The most shoplifted items are high value, low volume items like jewellery, perfumes and roll-on deodorants even though occasionally high value high volume items like electronics are also targeted,” said Mr Leparachao.
According to him, there are three categories of shoplifters: the professional ones who know all of the tricks of the trade, the juvenile one who either act individually or at the behest of adults and the kleptomaniacs, who steal compulsively whenever the urge strikes.
“The most frustrating thing in eradicating shoplifting is weak legislation,” said Mr Leparachao. “Shoplifters are categorised as petty offenders and treated with kid gloves by courts and the police are not enthusiastic in pursuing these cases and in most cases they don’t investigate them.”