What Every Chicago Retailer Should Know About Organized Retail Crime


According to reports from the National Retail Federation, Chicago is one of the top 5 U.S. cities most affected by organized retail theft.

From brazen merchandise heists by aggressive theft rings to sophisticated ecommerce fraud teams, organized retail crime is a growing concern for retailers across the country. Unfortunately, Chicago has become a national epicenter for this type of criminal activity.

Recent high-profile smash-and-grab retail crimes have shaken Chicago: a disturbing increase in organized retail crime has become a routine and unavoidable issue for Chicago retailers. Downtown Chicago in particular has seen several such incidents, including at luxury handbag retail locations and other high-end stores.

Organized retail crime costs retailers roughly $700,000 per $1 billion in sales. According to data analysis, theft accounted for $4 billion in losses to retailers in Illinois alone in 2020. Retail crime also accounts for billions in lost economic activity, thousands of fewer jobs, and an increase in personal and business tax revenues. These intricate criminal organizations have devastated many Chicago area retail businesses and continue to do so.

If you’re a Chicago retailer, it’s critical to understand what organized retail crime is and the threat that it poses to your business.

Understanding Organized Retail Crime

Organized retail crime involves the association of two or more people engaged in illegally obtaining substantial quantities of retail merchandise via both theft and fraud as part of an unlawful commercial enterprise. It involves sophisticated criminal organizations comprised of professional thieves whose primary objective is to steal from retail organizations for the purpose of turning retail merchandise into financial gain (as opposed to personal use).

Organized retail crime occurs at all levels and can operate on a local, regional, national, or international scale. These criminal enterprises are responsible for staggering losses to the retail industry: reports indicate that organized retail crime costs U.S. retailers tens of billions of dollars every single year.

Operations can cover a full spectrum of crimes ranging from simple to extremely complex, often involving organizers, boosters, fencing operations, re-packagers, and illegitimate wholesale operations. Members are often recruited and well-trained, with each collaborator assigned to a specific role in the operation. Working together, organized retail theft teams are capable of stealing thousands of dollars of merchandise from multiple retailers in a single day. Oftentimes, theft occurs before the merchandise even makes it to a store shelf, involving cargo theft as merchandise is moved from a distribution center to a store. 

High-end products such as designer clothes, handbags, and electronics are commonly targeted items, but so are everyday items like laundry detergent, cigarettes, over-the-counter drugs, teeth whitening strips, and infant formula.

Recognizing the Target

Businesses targeted by organized retail crime are as diverse as the types of products that are stolen and include department stores, grocery stores, boutiques, specialty stores, pharmacies, convenience stores, and other types of retailers. No retailer is immune from the prospective threats of organized retail crime. Criminals will strike through the front door, back door, internally, over the internet, or anywhere along the supply chain.

Although targeted goods and products can include nearly anything, they almost always share some or all of the following characteristics:

  • The product is considered valuable or in high demand
  • The product is easily accessible to consumers (and thieves)
  • The product is often easily concealed to avoid detection when stolen
  • The product has expansive availability and demand, especially in other stores or markets
  • The product is innovative or offers premium performance that is highly attractive to consumers
  • The product is easily resold and converted to cash quickly

The possibilities are essentially only limited by the needs of the criminal enterprises, the ingenuity of those committing the crime, and the expedience through which the stolen goods can be sold and converted to cash.

Understanding the Threat

The profits affiliated with organized retail theft should remind all retailers that the ingenuity, motivation, and ruthlessness of criminal enterprises should never be underestimated.

Determined and organized criminals pose a serious threat to both retail employees and their customers. From in-store smash and grab incidents to cargo hijacking and all opportunities in between, these criminal incidents often involve fear, intimidation, and brazen violence, with the potential for thieves to harm anyone who might stand in their way. Unfortunately, these criminal rings are becoming increasingly aggressive in nature, putting the safety of employees and customers in jeopardy.

Organized retail theft involves more than lost revenue and stolen merchandise. The criminal enterprises behind these thefts are frequently connected to other crimes within the community, including narcotics, money laundering, and human trafficking.

How Chicago Retailers Can Fight Back Against Organized Retail Crime

Detecting issues, deterring incidents, protecting resources, and resolving organized retail criminal episodes requires an advanced level of skill and experience. Every retail environment requires a unique strategy and a customized solution.

As a fully licensed and insured investigative firm comprised of law enforcement officers, Blue Star Security is extensively equipped to handle organized retail criminals and the threats they pose to Chicago retailers. Our team understands how the underground economy works and how to successfully investigate and infiltrate such groups. We are committed to delivering powerful retail security services designed to prevent loss and protect assets for Chicago retailers.

In the current era, this level of protection is invaluable in safeguarding the future of your retail business.

Contact our retail security team to discuss a customized plan for your retail location: call us at 708-669-7470 or contact us online at https://bluestarsecurityllc.com/contact-us/.

Learn more about our retail security and organized retail crime investigation services at https://bluestarsecurityllc.com/services/.