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Major retailers blame theft for their decision to close locations

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Target announced this week that it will close nine stores in locations where the company has experienced too much crime. Whole Foods and Nordstrom recently closed locations in San Francisco for the same reason. Shoplifting is a problem, and so are looting incidents like one this past Tuesday evening in Philadelphia.

Khris Hamlin is vice president for asset protection at the Retail Industry Leaders Association. Welcome to the program.

KHRIS HAMLIN: Good morning. Thank you.

INSKEEP: OK. So there's video of the looting in multiple stores in Philadelphia. And I guess we should note there also had been protests going on about a police incident. But police say the two things had nothing to do with one another. This is just a wave of looting. What do you see when you watch that video?

HAMLIN: Yeah, exactly what you said, Steve. When you watch that video and you see, you know, the protest event that was happening, and then you see this group of individuals that took advantage of a distraction that was happening within the city to carry out bad intentions across retailers and just loot them and target them for their theft activity.

INSKEEP: Can I just mention that a few minutes ago I wanted to see the video myself, so I was on Google. I'm, like, searching for Philadelphia looting video. And what came up was a looting incident (laughter) entirely different on a different night a couple weeks ago at a Wawa in Philadelphia. Is this sort of thing happening a lot?

HAMLIN: It absolutely is. You know, when - right now, we're seeing a wave of this activity. And, you know, it kind of stems back to the penalties that sit around us. That makes retailers a target for this activity because of the leniency when it comes to the penalties that these individuals will face if apprehended.

INSKEEP: Is that any different than it used to be?

HAMLIN: You know, I got to say, you know, when you look at this, things have become very easy for individuals to be able to take their stolen goods and to be able to resell them. And I think that the opportunity to be able to turn around those goods on marketplaces is what's making it much more easier - or much more a target for retailers and much more easier for these individuals to think that it's, you know, an easy way to be able to make a quick dollar out there.

INSKEEP: So you think the incentives have changed somewhat. But why is it getting so bad that some retailers would just say, listen, I'm not doing this particular location at all; I'm out of here?

HAMLIN: Very good question. You know, when you think about what the retailers have to keep in mind is the safety of their employees, the safety of their consumers and their ability to maintain that safe shopping and working environment. And so retailers are faced with that tough question. You know, do we continue to serve this community, or do we protect our employees and protect the good actors, the good consumers that are coming out into the marketplaces? And that's where they're having to make these tough decisions to pull out of some of the communities just based on the surrounding environment.

INSKEEP: I do have to ask if in some cases this is an excuse, meaning that we're in this big transition where there's a lot more online retailing, a lot less brick-and-mortar stores. The kinds of brick-and-mortar stores are changing. Are there occasions where maybe the store was pretty marginal already or the company was probably going to close it anyway, and then they give this reason?

HAMLIN: I can't say that. You know, what I can say is that these events, because of online marketplaces and the ability for these bad actors to be very anonymous in the online marketplaces, it makes it easier to resell that stuff anonymously, which makes the draw or the attractiveness of stealing the goods and then flipping it for a quick dollar real quick easier.

INSKEEP: Oh, so the internet affected it in that way. That's very interesting.

Khris Hamlin, vice president for asset protection in the Retail Industry Leaders Association, thanks.

HAMLIN: Thank you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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