Jump in Australia supermarket thefts blamed on difficult economy

CANBERRA, Australia: Australian government statistics have reported that retail theft has hit record levels, placing pressure on supermarket giants Woolworths and Coles, which are already dealing with surging supply costs and supply chain issues.

Government figures released this week showed that in New South Wales, where one-third of the Australian population live, store theft rose 23.7 percent from 2021 to 2022, the fastest year-on-year increase since records began being kept in 1995.

Queensland, Australia’s third-largest state, recorded the highest monthly shop theft rate in January, according to publicly available police data, confirming the concerns of analysts and social researchers that surging living costs, such as grocery prices, energy bills and mortgages, will lead to more crime.

"We would see a risk that that continues to rise if and when we start to see an increase in unemployment and tougher economic conditions," noted Craig Woolford, a retail analyst at MST Marquee, as quoted by Reuters.

"Supermarkets operate on very thin profit margins. You only need a small change in the stock loss to have an impact on profitability," he added.

Supermarkets refer to goods lost to theft, expiry or payment error as stock losses.

During an earnings call with analysts, Coles Chief Operating Officer Matt Swindells said the company was experiencing "elevated theft," adding to counter this, the company was investing in staff training and technology.

After nine interest rate increases aimed at curbing inflation, which currently is hovering at around 8 percent, in January, Australia’s jobless rate increased to its highest since May 2022.

Meanwhile, Roger Wilkins, deputy director of the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research at the University of Melbourne, said, "High inflation plus interest rate increases are good candidate explanations for an increase in theft from retail outlets."