Has Stealing Become the New Norm?


If you are like me, you are getting used to using self-check-out lines when you shop. Stores which hire fewer cashiers force customers who want to finish their shopping quickly to use self-check registers. This move toward greater automation makes sense for retailers as it reduces the cost of doing business since they have fewer workers to pay.

Apparently, however, changes are coming. This time instead of installing more self-checkout registers, several retail giants have started removing them. Costco has seen retail theft increase significantly since self-checkout lanes became common and they are not alone, stores are seeing ever more stolen and this is hurting their bottom line.

Recently, Los Angeles television station KTLA asked Walmart if self-checkout lanes were being phased out. The company refused to give a clear answer. Nationally, however, several individual stores have discontinued their use. San Francisco’s Target stores have also quietly began removing self-checkouts.

The LA Police Department reported retail theft grew by 16% in 2023, and unfortunately, this trend extends beyond California. The National Retail Federation reports their members lost $112 billion to theft in 2022. Several retailers have even closed stores in areas where shoplifting is rampant.

Recently I learned 41% of retailers no longer confront shoplifters because they are afraid employees may be injured by armed thieves. They have determined it is more cost effective to lose items than it is to risk worker injury. Three years ago, when my youngest son Nick was hired by a national retailer, he was warned he could lose his job if he tried to stop a shoplifter.

As fewer retailers stop thieves, shoplifters begin to steal more since there is little threat of consequences. We have come a long way from the time when almost everyone agreed stealing was wrong and that thieves should be punished.

The unintended consequence when we lose sight of right and wrong is huge. When stealing becomes routine both the victim and those who steal are negatively impacted. Ultimately, taking what does not belong to you is never the way to get ahead.

Our culture needs a return to the reality that taking what is not yours is wrong. In the Ten Commandments, God clearly states, “You must not steal.” (Exodus 20:15, NLT) When we ignore right and wrong, and become so tolerant of criminal activity that we refuse to call it criminal, there is always a significant price to pay.