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Nordstrom, Lululemon, Louis Vuitton Stores Looted in Brazen Bedlam

Nearly two dozen looters pillaged a Nordstrom store in Los Angeles Monday night, the latest spasm of retail crime after a spree of “flash mob” robberies rocked Nordstrom, Louis Vuitton and Lululemon’s Bay Area stores over the weekend.

Roughly 20 thieves used a sledgehammer to break into and loot the high-end retailer’s location at The Grove before fleeing in four vehicles and leading police on a chase, CBA Los Angeles reported. Police arrested three suspects and no injuries were reported. Law enforcement hasn’t offered details on the value of pilfered merchandise, it added.

The weekend brought an even bigger burst of criminal activity. About 80 suspects swarmed Nordstrom’s Broadway Plaza store Saturday evening in the San Francisco Bay Area. Bystander video showed thieves fleeing the scene and jumping into waiting cars with bags full of stolen merchandise just minutes after entering the store. The Walnut Creek Police Department apprehended three suspects, including one carrying a firearm.

Nordstrom confirmed the incident on Monday and said five employees who “sustained minor injuries have been treated and released.”

“The safety of our employees and customers is our top priority, and we’re doing everything we can to support them through this situation,” it added. Nordstrom said it is actively cooperating with Walnut Creek P.D.’s investigation.

Walnut Creek Mayor Kevin Wilk told Sourcing Journal that “just the Nordstrom store” was targeted, leading officials to believe that the mass looting was carefully premeditated. Suspects who were arrested had driven to the suburban shopping center from neighboring Oakland and San Francisco, he added. “This was a very specific, organized robbery event, and people communicated most likely either via text, social media, or email,” he said.

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The robbery put local businesses on high alert, with some, like the Apple store at Broadway Plaza, retaining private security to protect their storefronts during the busiest shopping week of the year. Wilk noted that Nordstrom had recently hired a Walnut Creek P.D. officer to enhance security during the holiday season. After Saturday, the city is ramping up the police presence at local commerce areas—a measure that Wilk said will continue through the holidays.

“What we’re seeing is that these are criminals that are brazen in what they’re doing,” he added. “Unless we have district attorneys who are prosecuting to the fullest extent of the law, and holding criminals accountable and putting them behind bars, I think we’ll just see that this emboldens further criminal activity.”

The threat to employee safety also has the potential to exacerbate an already dire labor shortage in the retail sector—a situation he hopes Walnut Creek can avoid. “I believe almost every retailer and restaurant out there is looking to hire right now, and it’s a challenge in general,” he said. “Common sense tells us that this doesn’t make it any easier.”

Organized retail crime on the upswing

On Friday evening, looters stripped the Louis Vuitton store in San Francisco’s Union Square neighborhood of nearly all its inventory. At least 10 other nearby businesses including Bloomingdale’s and Burberry also called police about looters.

A Nordstrom store at Walnut Creek's Broadway Plaza shopping center was targeted over the weekend in a mass looting.
A Nordstrom store at Walnut Creek’s Broadway Plaza shopping center was targeted over the weekend in a mass looting. Keith Srakocic / Associated Press

At a press conference Saturday, San Francisco police chief Bill Scott vowed to “flood this area with police officers for the foreseeable future,” while Mayor London Breed noted the impact of retail crime on the city’s economy. “We not only lose those businesses, we lose those jobs,” she said. “We lose that tax revenue that helps to support our economy that helps to support many of the social service programs that we have in the city.”

Thieves struck again on Sunday at the Southland Mall in Hayward in the early evening. Multiple bystanders tweeted videos and accounts of more than 30 and as many as 60 individuals smashing the display cases and grabbing stock in Sam’s Jewelers.

A Lululemon store in nearby San Jose was also targeted that evening. At a Monday press conference, San Jose Police Sgt. Christian Camarillo said that suspects fled with an estimated $40,000 in product.

“As always, the safety and well-being of our employees and guests is Lululemon’s top priority,” the company told Sourcing Journal Monday. “We take thefts and vandalism very seriously and have been following our protocols for responding to these incidents, including working closely with law enforcement.” Lululemon plans to offer employees additional training to handle similar future events.

Organized retail crime (ORC) has most commonly affected “retail hot spots,” like San Francisco, Los Angeles and Orange County, according to Rachel Michelin, CEO of the California Retailer’s Association (CRA). “Now, we’re seeing it leak into the suburbs,” she said, adding that the scale of the Nordstrom robbery eclipsed anything she had seen before.

California retailers have been disproportionately impacted by organized retail crimes simply because of the state’s size, according to Michelin. “We’re the largest retail market in the country, and the fifth-largest economy in the world,” she said. “We’re always a leader—whether that’s good or bad.”

Retail fights back

In March, CRA partnered with the California Organized Retail Crimes Association (Cal-ORCA) to launch three regional task forces in the Bay Area, Los Angeles and Orange County, which work in partnership with the state’s law enforcement as well as asset protection and loss prevention professionals. The groups are pushing legislative and regulatory measures that will empower law enforcement, as well as the business community, to prevent future large-scale thefts, Michelin said. CRA and Cal-ORCA are also working with retail crime intelligence platform Auror to build a nationwide network for members to share intelligence about premeditated attacks on businesses.

According to Michelin, thieves have become increasingly adept at both coordinating these events and unloading stolen goods. While many still hawk these products at physical locations, from swap meets to the backrooms of legitimate storefronts, “we’re obviously seeing an uptick now on online marketplaces,” she said.

A recent study from the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) revealed that the growth of online shopping correlates with the rise in shoplifting, with both growing at nearly the same rate between 2003-2019 when data was captured. “Of course, correlation does not imply causation,” it wrote. “However, the degree in which both of these trends have grown in unison does suggest that there may be a relationship.”

Law enforcement, elected leaders and the governor’s office “need to get on the same page to figure out how we start solving this problem, because it’s only getting worse,” Michelin said.

“We’re participating in a bill to that’s being authored by Senator Nancy Skinner to look at how we can put some guardrails around the online marketplaces to make sure that that’s not a place for stolen goods to be sold,” she said. CRA is also lobbying Governor Gavin Newsom to invest some of the state’s $30 billion budget surplus into public safety initiatives and organized crime prevention.

Retailers across the board are becoming increasingly looking for a solution, according to a recent National Retail Federation (NRF) study. About 69 percent of the trade group’s reporting members said they had seen an increase in ORC activity over the past year alone, citing factors like the Covid crisis, policing, changes to sentencing guidelines an the growth of digital marketplaces for that growth.

What’s more, 65 percent of retailers responding to NRF’s survey noted an increase in violence from thieves. The escalation in dangerous behavior illustrates the need for a federal ORC law, 78 percent of respondents said, in part because ORC perpetrators are selling stolen wares across state lines, making it a multi-jurisdictional issue.

“One of the things that we’ve been placing some focus on recently is looking at ways to get a greater amount of coordination among law enforcement,” Christian Beckner, NRF vice president of retail technology and cyber security, told Sourcing Journal. “In a lot of cases [ORC] looks like it’s a local phenomenon but you often have groups that are facilitating this that are national or regional in scope, operating in different cities, sometimes moving goods from one part of the country to the other after they’re stolen.”

NRF has been reaching out to both local and federal law enforcement officials, including the FBI, to articulate these concerns, he said. It is imperative that state and local police receive support and training in the area of ORC, both in the interest of “preventing and deterring these attacks” and ensuring that when they do occur, “you’re able to arrest not just the people who are taking things out of stores, but groups or individuals who are behind this.”

In the near term, NRF members are “ramping up” protective measures in advance of the holidays, and Beckner expects to see increased law enforcement presence around shopping malls through the peak season.

“Obviously, it’s a very different holiday shopping season than a year ago in terms of people being back in stores in a much more active way,” he said. “That affects the potential risk in terms of crime.”

“This is the busiest time of year,” he added. “So this would be a particularly critical time for retailers to be focused around in what they’re doing for store security.”

Additional reporting by Jessica Binns.