Theft at local retail outlets is costing businesses as much as two per cent of their bottom line, which is passed on to consumers, it emerged Monday.
President of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry Eddy Abed said pilferage was prevalent here, with supermarkets being the primary targets.
However, he said distributors were also victims, suggesting in this case it was from “internal pilferage”.
“The estimate is anywhere between half of one per cent to as much as two per cent of turnover, and I say that because some businesses have extremely vigilant security in place at point of sale systems, and others have somewhat more lax systems. So it really is a difficult measure, but that is the kind of shrinkage that we are looking at. It goes straight to bottom line,” Abed told Barbados TODAY.
“So in a perfect world prices could be lower by as much as two per cent if we didn’t have pilferage.”
The revelation came as a 24-second video appeared on social media showing two young men taking what appeared to be bottles of alcohol off the shelf at Lionel C Hill Supermarket on Roebuck Street, St Michael and placing them into a backpack before walking out of the view of the camera.
“I personally think it is reprehensible,” a supermarket official who did not want to be identified told Barbados TODAY.
“They were walking up and down checking to see when I was going to move. They didn’t stop to browse, they didn’t look around. However, when they spotted the security officer, he said “they took off like Obadele Thompson”.
Recalling Sunday’s startling incident, the spokesman for the over 47-year-old supermarket said pilferage was costing the business thousands of dollars each month, explaining that a review of security footage had revealed that thieves were helping themselves to various items.
“People have walked in . . . and put a supermarket bag in their pocket and they go by the fridge and just dump about $100 in hotdogs and bacon in a bag and walk back out as if they purchased [the items],” he said, adding that because of the supermarket’s location it was difficult to apprehend the culprits once they left the shop.
He explained that the practice was often mind-boggling because of what was stolen.
“We talking about . . . bursting open a pack of garlic that has five cloves in it and taking one . . . . They open up a box of mosquito coil and take out one, close back the box and put the coil in their purse. They would take the toothpaste out the box and put the box back neat, neat, neat until the next customer grabs it,” he said.
The supermarket official said there had been a rise in pilferage over the past three years, with thieves ranging in age from very young to people in their 60s.
While there was an increase in theft of ham at this time of year, he said, the culprits tended to gravitate towards high-end items that they could not normally afford, or things that they could easily resell, including vitamins, alcohol, cosmetics and food.
In addition to a security system and the hiring of a security officer, the supermarket encourages its 46 staff members to look out for shoplifters and even offers a stipend to employees who catch a thief.
Yet, this has not stopped the pilfering, and with yesterday’s incident seeming to be the last straw, an upset supermarket official is threatening to launch a “Facebook database of thieves”.
“This is just the first time I got them glaringly where I could see their faces. Usually people do things more covertly,” the official told Barbados TODAY.
The official also expressed frustration over the time it takes to prosecute those caught stealing, telling Barbados TODAY the last time an incident was reported the case lingered in the law courts for five years and he had to appear 20 times.
However, police have warned retailers against taking matters in their own hands.
Under the Computer Misuse Act anyone found guilty of causing annoyance, inconvenience, distress or anxiety to a person faces a fine of $10,000 or 12 months in jail, or both.
One police officer recommended that the supermarket owners should report theft instead of posting videos online.
Describing the situation as ticklish, the officer said since there was sufficient evidence to get a conviction it was best to report the matter to police.
“Because he chose not to report the matter it could be seen as him taking the law into his own hands,” the officer cautioned.
Meantime, while Abed did not give his explicit blessing to the idea of an online database of thieves, he said he would support any legal measure that would dissuade pilferage. However, he recommended various options.
“There are point-of-sale systems currently available that are extremely good. I think you need to combine it with security. I think there needs to be surveillance and I think it needs to be a wider spread.
“I think more importantly we need to get the message out there to greater Barbados that pilferage ultimately hurts both the purchaser and the vendor because it is an amount that has to be added on to the price to compensate for it. So education may in fact be part of the solution,” the businessman said.