India ranks number one in shoplifting and designer garments top the list of things stolen. Sangeetha Devi Dundoo discovers how shoplifters unnerve boutique owners

Agencies selling CCTV cameras and anti-theft devices have been doing brisk business in the country and the reasons are obvious. We knew that shop owners are always wary of shoplifters but here's the shocker: The findings of the Global Retail Theft Barometer 2009 (conducted by Centre for Retail Research, Nottingham, UK), which studied shoplifting patterns in 41 countries, revealed that India topped retail shrinkage with 3.2 per cent of sales. Retail shrinkage, in simple terms, refers to retail loss due to shoplifting, theft by employees, accounting errors and supplier fraud. The study found that 45.2 per cent of retail shrinkage in India was due to shoplifting and 23.2 per cent was due to theft by employees.

Interestingly, it's not just the malls but also high-end boutiques that face the brunt. The shoplifters in this case are seemingly ‘well-heeled' women. Designer Kedar Maddula of Wundershop recalls how two women left him stumped: “Two well-dressed women, flaunting fake Gucci bags, walked into the store. Pretending to look through the clothes, they took some pieces off the hangers and went into the trial room. In the process, they stuffed a few garments into their bags and slipped away. I realised it much later.” The incident was an eye opener for him and his staff.

The two women didn't call it a day. They then walked to the designer store run by Sagar Tenali next door and made away with heavily embroidered saris. “They distracted our attention and took the clothes. The incident made us more alert and we never leave customers unattended,” says Sagar.

Shop owners, as a practice, check their inventory on a daily or weekly basis to discover the gap between the stocks and the sales. The shortage is written off as losses but the truth, obviously, lies elsewhere. With time, shop owners have studied the modus operandi of shoplifters. Sarvamangala of Anagha recalls, “In July 2008 there was a major instance when we lost 12 tussar silk saris costing approximately Rs. 40,000. That is when I decided to get an anti theft device installed.” She observes that the women came in pairs, in short intervals, and while the store staff members were attending to some of them, others slipped a few saris into their bags. Some among the group carried on the ‘buyer' act until the actual shoplifters left the store.

“Shoplifting is an organised profession in the twin cities. I have been witness to it in the last 16 years of my experience in retail. The same gang doesn't visit the same store a second time,” adds Sarvamangala.

Designers who have boutiques in their residence have also not been spared. Ishita Singh says, “A lady once walked away with a kurti before I could realise. Imagine all this happening at my boutique that is right inside my house!”

What else did Global Retail Theft Barometer 2009 reveal?

The most stolen retail merchandise included high-end cosmetics, designer garments for women, perfumes, smaller gadgets, video games, DVDs and accessories. Among these, the retail shrinkage of designer apparels and accessories was the highest.

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