Shoplifters aren't the reason New York drugstore chains are closing

Shoplifters aren’t the reason New York drugstore chains are closing

Photo: Bryan R. Smith / AFP via Getty Images

Michael Rapaport knew exactly what was going on. “Hey! This fucking guy just filled his two bags with everything in Rite Aid, ”the actor recounted from his local pharmacy chain on the Upper East Side while filming a man walking out of the store late last month. “Walking down the street like shit is Gucci … My man just went Christmas shopping in January. He had condoms, shampoo. ”He added that someone (he didn’t say who) had told him that the Rite Aid in question would close in mid-February for shoplifting.

The tabloids ran with Rapaport’s claims that runaway theft was killing our local pharmacies. (This particular shop had far more reported thefts in 2021 than in previous years: 249 petty thefts, up from 48 in 2019.) To send alone he published at least five related articles in the following days, pushing his narrative on crime and chaos and scolding new Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg for some of the political changes he promised in his “day one” memo. The To send He also reported that another Rite Aid – this one in Hell’s Kitchen – would also be closed, presumably also due to shoplifting, according to ambiguously attributed “shop sources”. Almost immediately, Bragg announced the formation of the Manhattan Small Business Alliance with a mission to reduce shoplifting. And last week, he reversed many of his criminal justice reform policies in response to the related backlash. Even so, this week, by MSNBC Good morning Joe devoted a five-person panel to shoplifting. “Go to a local pharmacy, Duane Reade or Rite Aid, any of them, and you need to find someone to help you,” Al Sharpton said during the segment. “What did I miss that now we have to lock up the toothpaste?”

Never mind that an Upper East Side Rite Aid employee told Fox 5 that the store is closing due to “shipping problems,” a reference to pandemic-related supply chain disruptions affecting all types of businesses and which have nothing to do with petty theft. When the To send Made similar claims in the fall about shoplifting leaving city pharmacies half empty, a CVS spokesperson pointed out that “product offering challenges are currently impacting most of the retail industry.”

Indeed, the two reported Manhattan Rite Aid closures appear to be part of a nationwide downsizing. In December, Rite Aid said it would close 63 stores “to reduce costs, increase profitability and ensure a solid foundation from which to grow, with the right stores in the right locations, for the communities we serve and for our business. “Shoplifting was not a listed logic. When asked about Manhattan store closings – and whether shoplifting played a role – a spokesperson for Rite Aid just says the decisions” are based on a variety of factors that companies sell. retail take into account such as general business strategy, lease and rental considerations, local business conditions, and store feasibility and performance. Again, no mention of shoplifting.

This general contraction is also an industry-wide trend: the previous month, CVS said it would close about 10% of its stores over the next three years – around 900 locations – in response to “changing consumer needs.” A CVS spokesperson tells me that the company has not closed any shoplifting shops. Walgreens says that when it closes its stores, its reasoning is rooted “in the dynamics of the local market and the changing shopping habits of our customers.”

“Rite Aid’s main profit margin comes from non-pharmaceutical consumer goods,” says Mahmud Hassan, an economics professor who runs Rutgers’ Lerner Center for the Study of Pharmaceutical Management Issues. “If you look at a bottle of Tylenol or other over-the-counter drugs, they make a fortune on those and other consumer goods, like milk.” He says pharmacies are responding to the pandemic’s effects on store sales and the continued growth of online shopping and prescription home delivery. “If people don’t walk into the store, they don’t sell as much because people use drive-throughs to get prescriptions from the pharmacy and order things over the Internet.” (The drive-through effect obviously doesn’t apply to Manhattan, but online fast-delivery pharmaceutical companies like Capsule certainly do.) Walgreens is definitely worried about online sellers: A spokesperson says it is currently lobbying for a design of law that would rule online marketplaces “responsible for the activity on their platforms” and help to “ensure that only legitimate goods are sold by verified sellers”.

“The reality is that we have too many retail pharmacies in the US,” Adam Fein, CEO of the Drug Channels Institute, which studies the economics of the pharmaceutical industry, told WHYY when the closures of Rite Aid and CVS were announced. Fein later wrote a lengthy blog post detailing the “10 Industry Trends Driving the Retail Shakeout”. Neither shoplifting nor any other type of theft was on the list. Hassan says the same, adding that companies are rushing to restructure in response to industry pressures that have plagued them for years, not because of shoplifting. With the high levels of remote work likely to continue, he says, these financial difficulties are not temporary. “I think this is just the beginning,” he says, “of a restructuring of the entire outlet sector for retail stores.” He believes a major merger attempt is likely to come again and noted that Walgreens already bought nearly 2,000 stores from Rite Aid in 2018. “I’m sure most of [the pharmacies] they don’t close for shoplifting, “says Christopher Herrmann, a criminologist at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Regardless of the real reasons for the closures, has there been a recent spate of shoplifting in New York drugstore chains? We don’t really know. “I reached out to my NYPD friends – I’m a recovering crime analyst at NYPD Headquarters – and there’s no easy or good way to do this analysis with current data,” says Herrmann. “The data shared with the public on the New York Open Data portal contains information on shoplifting, but is only shared quarterly,” which means that the most recent data is not yet available. In general, however, he says that shoplifting information tends to be unreliable because its reporting is variable and arbitrary. There is no national database, and in all jurisdictions, shoplifting data is classified in many different ways that do not match. This makes it really difficult to understand what is happening at any given moment, let alone the confrontation between times and places.

“Let’s put it this way, because you want evidence – right now it’s, on the whole, anecdotal,” says Read Hayes, a researcher at the University of Florida college of engineering and director of the Loss Prevention Research Council, who analyzes and models data for companies on the loss of products due to floods, storms and theft. (Hayes describes his work policy as “alt-middle.”) “Unfortunately, the theft is not well reported by the victims. or the police, ”says Herrmann.

According to data shared by the NYPD, complaints of retail theft across the city, which include not only shoplifting, but all “petty thefts, major thefts and robberies” [sic] which initially started as shoplifting, “a DCPI spokesperson clarified – rose slightly above 2019 levels in 2021 after a decline in 2020 inhibited by the pandemic. 43,864 complaints were recorded last year, up from 32,358. in 2020 and 37,918 in 2019. It was unclear what percentage of these theft reports were shoplifting only. The NYPD did not provide specific numbers for chain stores or pharmacies. Although some recent news has cited an increase in reporting year-over-year of petty thefts, Hermann says changes in pandemic life between periods make comparison pointless.

Unlike the Upper East Side store that Michael Rapaport filmed, Hell’s Kitchen Rite Aid, which was scheduled to close, reported only 39 petty thefts in 2021, barely changed from 35 in 2019. he said nationwide “retail thefts increased significantly during the pandemic, but we don’t break this information down to specific markets.” Hayes says some of his customers have reported similar experiences.

Let’s say one had to choose a place to steal, perhaps out of a combination of need and boredom. A large faceless corporate pharmacy chain with very few employees on the floor or items left on the shelves – stores with, investors noted, “bad lighting, dreary interiors, cluttered merchandise, and a weak assortment of products” – would be an unsurprising target. However, Herrmann says that although increases in unemployment are sometimes linked to the rise of certain types of property crime, “this was certainly not the case with COVID,” possibly due to an unusually widespread social safety net of temporary subsidies for the pandemic.

A significant obstacle in trying to understand what is going on with shoplifting, however, is that many of the people thinking about the matter are the police, people with vested interests in defending the police, people who work or consult for retail chains. and people who say they’re studying things like “What’s a good day for a bad guy?” as Hayes of LPRC did with me. According to a 2020 report from the nonprofit group Public Citizen, retailers including Rite Aid and CVS have argued tougher penalties for shoplifting, which have contributed to high incarceration rates.

“This business restructuring does not result from shoplifting. This is cheap, “Hassan says firmly, adding that most stores are insured, which allows them to recoup a sizeable portion of their product losses. Shoplifting” gives them a good excuse, “he says,” so they don’t have to. say ‘Hey, my profit is falling.’ “Yes, there is some theft going on. But the real thief is probably Amazon.

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