In Singapore, retail theft costs each household $258

SINGAPORE residents are paying US $173 (S $258) a year per household to make good on losses suffered by retailers primarily from shoplifting, according to a recent worldwide retail survey.

Altogether, local industry lost US $145 million between July last year and June this year because of retail thefts. When wastage from administrative error is included, the overall loss is US $173 million.

Of this amount, shoplifting accounted for over half at 52.4 per cent, while theft by employees made up 24.4 per cent. Supplier theft was also a small factor.

When retailers experience shrinkage, loss or waste of goods, they pass it on to the consumer, said Ms Natalie Chan, Asia-Pacific marketing director for Checkpoint Systems, which sponsored the latest Global Retail Theft Barometer survey.

'If the shrinkage is higher than the cost of operations and the business wants to survive, it will have to raise prices, so households have to pay what we call the 'dishonest tax',' she said.

Conducted by the British-based Centre for Retail Research, the survey interviewed more than 920 retailers in 36 countries. Singapore ranked seventh for its low shrinkage rate, which measures the loss of goods as a percentage of sales, of 1.21 per cent.

India fared the worst with the highest rate of 3.1 per cent, followed by Mexico, Thailand, South Africa and Malaysia. Austria, with the best score, had a shrinkage rate of only 1.01 per cent.

Ms Chan estimated that 60 per cent of retailers in Singapore do not have adequate measures to tackle shoplifting and other kinds of retail theft. These mostly tend to be small chains or individual businesses.

They lack a good loss prevention system, which includes installing closed- circuit television (CCTV) cameras and training staff to react quickly to shoplifting.

While the shrinkage rate dipped slightly from 1.25 per cent to 1.21 per cent in the latest period, researchers are predicting a rise next year.

The survey ended in June, and does not account for the impact of the recent financial turmoil. Ms Chan said the general downturn is likely to trigger more thefts.

She said retailers are tempted to make budget cuts in lean times, but they should resist doing so for security. This is because shoplifters are getting ever more savvy.

According to Mr Jasbir Singh, deputy managing director of Certis Cisco Security Consulting, some shoplifters know how to tamper with CCTVs and surveillance sensors. Others cover stolen goods in shopping trolleys with personal items, or smuggle items in their children's clothing and prams.

There have been cases of shoplifters masquerading as pregnant women and concealing stolen items in inflated bags strapped around the waist and covered up by loose-fitting clothing.