Feel as though you were being watched while you browsed at a Winnipeg store recently?
It probably wasn't your imagination.
Some retailers in the city are ramping up security measures in the face of a marked increase in shoplifting, adding both uniformed and plainclothes guards, installing more sophisticated loss-prevention technology and changing the layout of their stores.
And while brazen thefts at Liquor Marts have generated headlines over the past year, the problem is growing in other types of stores as well.
"What we know is that there are national retailers that report that their Winnipeg core-area stores primarily — downtown Winnipeg stores — are amongst the top five for shoplifting incidences, and that Winnipeg is one of the hot spots of concern for loss-prevention teams across Canada." - John Graham
The Retail Council of Canada says its members have anecdotally highlighted Winnipeg as an "area of concern," along with cities in Alberta and B.C., even though overall rates of shoplifting have remained relatively stable, said John Graham, Prairie Region director of government relations for the organization.
"What we know is that there are national retailers that report that their Winnipeg core-area stores primarily — downtown Winnipeg stores — are amongst the top five for shoplifting incidences, and that Winnipeg is one of the hot spots of concern for loss-prevention teams across Canada," he said.
"For large national retailers, they don't have security in every single store. They say, 'We've got budget enough for 30 stores out of our 100 across Canada, where should we put them?' and Winnipeg is where they're investing those resources."
The council hasn't conducted a Manitoba-specific study, but it estimates the cost of shoplifting in Canada mirrored U.S. figures from last year, adding up to about 1.4 per cent of all sales.
That would translate into about $172 million annually — $471,000 a day — for Manitoba's retail sector. Those numbers have stayed consistent for the past five years, Graham said, but what's changed is the thefts seem to be more sophisticated, and the culprits less concerned about consequences.
Ron D'Errico, president and CEO of Impact Security group, said his business has seen a 68 per cent increase in new requests for security guards from retailers since last year. The requests started picking up speed early this year, he said, and he believes there's been a "piggyback effect" from liquor stores to all retailers.
"More or less, they would like to have the presence in the store to work with their staff to make their staff feel safe," D'Errico said.
"I think right now, this is probably the darkest time for all retailers in this time and age in Winnipeg than they've ever experienced in all the years past.
"I've been doing this for 30 years and I've never seen it like this, ever."
"I think right now, this is probably the darkest time for all retailers in this time and age in Winnipeg than they've ever experienced in all the years past. I've been doing this for 30 years and I've never seen it like this, ever." - Ron D'Errico, president and CEO of Impact Security
During the national retail council's loss-prevention conference last month, its members responded to an internal survey that sheds some light on their experiences.
Half of the respondents said theft is increasing year over year, and 75 per cent said violence is increasing toward staff and security guards when they deal with shoplifters. They waited an average of 2.2 hours for police to arrive for shoplifting incidents, according to the survey, and 67 per cent said they felt police were reluctant to lay robbery charges against violent shoplifters — most of whom aren't stealing products for personal use.
"Most theft isn't for personal consumption, is our experience," Graham said. "It's for resale."
Apart from liquor, commonly targeted items are meat, cheese, baby formula and razor blades.
Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.