Once upon a time, the biggest fears about Black Friday were bleary-eyed shoppers camped out all night, hellbent on being first through the doors to snag that Tickle Me Elmo or ugly Christmas sweater, and ready to grapple with anyone who would dare beat them to it.
Nowadays, however, Black Friday fears are nothing to laugh at.
Just days before the busiest shopping day of the year, a gunman believed to be a former employee opened fire Tuesday night, killing six people and injuring four more at a Chesapeake, Va. Walmart before turning the gun on himself.
Police have yet to release the name of the shooter or speculate on motive in the latest mass shooting at a retail store, which takes the firearm-related death toll at Walmart locations since 2020 to at least 96, according to a study by the gun control advocacy group Guns Down America.
The study found that Walmarts account for more than 60 percent of the nearly 500 gun-related incidents that have occurred at grocery and retail stores between Jan. 1, 2020 to May 14, 2022.
The fear emanating from Tuesday night’s incident spilled into the following morning at a Target store in Chesapeake where a report of a gunman inside the store sent shoppers scurrying for safety. Police responded and determined the report was false.
“There’s a whole range of actions [the retail community] can take in order to be part of the solution—not only on a moral level, but also more specifically, on a more pragmatic business level,” Igor Volsky, executive director of Guns Down America, told Business Insider. “During a period of federal inaction, retailers who are directly impacted businesses must help lead if they care about the safety of their customers, employees, and communities.”
Requests by Sourcing Journal for comment on what special or additional security measures Walmart plans on taking this Black Friday went unanswered. “We’re praying for those impacted, the community and our associates,” the company said in a statement. “We’re working closely with law enforcement, and we are focused on supporting our associates.”
But mass shootings aren’t the only crime plaguing retail heading into this holiday season.
Shoplifting and bigger felony thefts have grown more intense, brazen and violent since the pandemic, and the problem keeps getting worse.
Walmart, being the nation’s largest retailer, again carries the highest number of large-scale shoplifting incidents, and some of the strangest stories behind them.
Earlier this month, a Wisconsin woman tried to trick the self-scanning checkout system by not ringing up $714 worth of merchandise. This week, a Florida man caught shoplifting $200 in goods told police he couldn’t possibly steal from Walmart because he was now owner of the giant corporation after a “hostile takeover” while a New Jersey woman walked out with more than $760 in goods.
Over in Oklahoma, a veteran law enforcement officer was caught stealing $30 last week by trying to scan one item in self-checkout with an unpaid item on top.
More than 20 shoplifters in Tennessee busted in through the automotive section of a Memphis Walmart and made off with a number of TVs and scooters before leaving in what appeared to be at least 20 vehicles. They have yet to be captured after this week’s incident.
Nike has been another retail chain hit heavily by theft, whether in its storefronts, or for its products, which are then often sold again online in a growing scourge of what is being called organized retail crime, now with its own acronym, ORC.
Roughly 20 suspects broke into a Memphis boutique this week and absconded with $100,000 worth of Nike sneakers, along with toys meant for a toy drive. No word yet on whether this crime was related to the Walmart smash and grab. This comes after thieves in the southern city stole $800,000 in Nike goods after ransacking a pair of storage trailers two month ago, prompting StockX to temporarily halt sales of a particular shoe style.
In Portland, near the birthplace of the Nike empire, stealing became so prevalent at the brand’s original factory storefront that it had to close down for several weeks after rampant thefts. The outlet mall housing the store said police had been called for shoplifting at the store 437 times since 2019.
A Dick’s Sporting Goods in Kansas was the target of more Nike theft in October with more than $4,100 worth of merchandise leaving the shelves. Last month, thieves in Southern California made off with more than $17,000 of Nike merchandise in a pair of break-ins. Smash-and-grabs have become so commonplace and predictable for Nike product that earlier this month employees got ahead of the problem by leaving just one shoe in a store room at an indie boutique in Texas.
Sometimes thefts are just inside jobs within the supply chain, which happened last month in Michigan when a FedEx driver, tasked with delivering $96,000 in merchandise—much of it Nike—decided to keep it for himself.
Brands, like Nike, that may be specifically targeted could often be the victims of retail crime rings that then sell the stolen goods online, according to a report by the National Retail Federation which declares retail shrink, which is the loss of supply, usually through theft, to be a “$100 billion problem” for the industry. Target just said its $400 million crime-fueled shrink problem could reach $600 million before the year is over.
According to the NRF, ORC was up 26.5 percent in 2021, and by the time the 2022 study is done, the number could go even higher.
“Retailers desire stronger ORC legislation, especially at the federal level, as well as better enforcement of existing laws,” it says. “They also favor increased penalties for theft, and a reduction in felony thresholds; 70.8% of survey respondents reported increases in ORC in areas where felony thresholds have increased.”
The report shows the frequency, value and violence involved with the thefts has risen in concert with the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Challenges with labor shortages, employee retention and hiring—as well as issues related to masking and maintaining COVID precautions—have contributed to the risks of violence and hostility,” the report said. “The current climate of active assailants and gun violence add to retailers’ concerns about being able to keep employees and customers safe.”
Partially in response to the growing ORC, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Integrity, Notification, and Fairness in Online Retail Marketplaces (INFORM) Consumers Act last week. INFORM, which drew support from the American Apparel and Footwear Association and NRF, aims to help to provide additional information to consumers and provide law enforcement with the vital enforcement tools needed to go after high-volume third-party criminal sellers who offload stolen merchandise across e-commerce marketplaces.
Nike didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on its holiday store security plans.