From two pairs of Calvin Klein underwear pilfered from Marshall’s in Bluffton to an electric scooter scooped up at a nearby Walmart, merchandise of all shapes and sizes is literally disappearing from the shelves of Beaufort County shops during this holiday season.
Since Thanksgiving, police reports have been chock-full of references to surveillance videos capturing suspects bypassing cash registers as they make their way out of local stores.
This comes as no surprise to law enforcement — during the busy holiday season, more shoppers equates to more shoplifters.
“When you’re looking at the volume of customers being up, it makes sense that (the level of shoplifting incidents) is going to proportionate,” Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Capt. Bob Bromage said earlier this week. “It just makes sense.”
Others are comparatively more brazen; a woman grabbing an armful of clothes worth about $700 from a display in the front of an Old Navy store in Bluffton.
Since Thanksgiving, more than a dozen shoplifting reports from shops in southern Beaufort County have been taken.
North of the Broad River, shoplifters are making the rounds as well.
According to Beaufort Police Department reports, at least eight shoplifting incidents have been investigated inside Beaufort City limits since turkey and cranberry sauce was served.
In one particularly lucrative looting, a shoplifter at a Beaufort Walmart “filled a shopping cart with (items valued at more than $600) and fled the scene without paying,” according to a department report.
A report last year from Fortune magazine — which nicknamed the holiday season “the Super Bowl of shopping” — indicated that shoplifting between Thanksgiving and Christmas “is $6 billion problem for retailers” nationwide.
The holiday season accounts for nearly 40 percent of annual inventory loss for the nation’s retailer’s according to the report.
In South Carolina, misdemeanor shoplifting carries a maximum penalty of a $1,000 fine or 30 days in jail for thieves who make off with merchandise valued at less than $2,000. For felony shoplifters, that maximum sentence jumps to five years for the theft of items valued between $2,000 and $10,000. Thieves who steal items worth more than $10,000 face a maximum of 10 years behind bars.
Ashley Doepp, general manager at Tanger Outlets, said she couldn’t comment on shoplifting or specific techniques to combat the problem during the holidays.
But she said, “Safety and security is always our top priority — that’s why we provide 24-hour security.”
Bromage offered some advice to help shopkeepers reduce theft.
He encouraged stores to not only have security cameras, but to regularly test them to “make sure they are operational.”
But Bromage said, “The best loss prevention (strategy) is good customer service.”
Store employees should “engage with the customers” to minimize theft, he said.