TJ Maxx and Marshalls will roll out employee body cameras in move to crack down on shoplifters - The Boston Globe (2024)

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The cameras will only be used by certain employees who have been trained specifically on using them, according to the spokesperson.

Financial losses from shrink, which includes theft as well as fraud and employee error, swelled to $112.1 billion for all retailers in 2022, according to the most recent figures from the National Retail Federation.

However, the alarm over shoplifting has drawn skepticism from some quarters. Advocates question whether retailers are inflating the seriousness of the issue and placing undue burdens on workers.

“All employers have a responsibility to protect their workers, and cameras are not going to take care of that responsibility,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

Retailers have explored various ways of cracking down on shoplifters, from increasing camera coverage to locking up merchandise such as toothpaste and shampoo.

TJX’s body cameras would be another highly visible attempt to deter would-be thieves at its approximately 3,400 stores across the country.

Last year, the National Retail Federation found that more than one-third of retailers were exploring using body cameras to deter shoplifters, though only 11 percent were actively testing the measures.

In the United Kingdom, grocers Aldi and Tesco have also reportedly introduced body cameras. Retailers that have used the cameras say they hope the devices will provide additional angles to help identify thieves that existing cameras might miss.

Carol Spieckerman, a retail consultant, said employee body cameras “show customers visibly that TJX, and all the retailers associated with the brand, are taking crime seriously.”

“It might even create an air of safety for consumers that aren’t up to shenanigans,” she said.

Spieckerman noted that because TJX locations typically feature a wide assortment of small “impulse” products — from food items to small electronics to socks — scattered throughout the store, they may be particularly susceptible to petty theft.

TJ Maxx and Marshalls will roll out employee body cameras in move to crack down on shoplifters - The Boston Globe (1)

“A big part of their model is this unpredictable, treasure-hunt environment where you never know what’s going to be there tomorrow; that’s what drives more frequent trips, and it’s a really successful model,” she said. “But it also means that it’s sometimes more difficult to keep track of inventory.”

The data on shoplifting as a specific component of inventory shrinkage — as distinguished from “organized” retail theft, including large-scale raids on shipments or warehouses — is unclear.

Some analysts question whether the specter of shoplifting and retail crime is overblown, suggesting that recent increases in shoplifting incidents may simply reflect a return to pre-pandemic levels, when store closures and shopping restrictions dramatically reduced foot traffic in stores.

“We believe there is a disconnect . . . between the expected increase in shrink and the attention it has drawn,” read a 2023 research note from investment bank William Blair.

In its note, the firm also suggested retailers have used shrink, and in particular, safety concerns surrounding shoplifting and violent theft, as an excuse to close underperforming locations in urban areas. TJX recently shut four out-of-state locations, all in urban centers (though it also opened 31 new locations last year).

The average shoplifting rate per 100,000 people is still lower than it was before the pandemic, according to data from 24 major American cities collected by the Council on Criminal Justice — though in Boston, reported incidents have risen more quickly and have already returned to 2019 levels.

However, most retailers say shoplifters have become more aggressive, and further, the number of violent shoplifting incidents has spiked, according to National Retail Federation data.

The use of body cameras also means shoppers will likely become more aware of the surveillance in place. But Spieckerman, the retail consultant, said any pretense of privacy while browsing the aisles went away with the advent of overhead security cameras years ago.

“The fact is, these days in just about any shopping environment, shoppers are being monitored — whether they know it or not,” Spieckerman said. “So we’re not really talking about whether that’s happening. We’re talking about, does it make people uncomfortable when it’s visible and there’s evidence that it’s happening?”

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TJX declined to say whether shoppers will be notified they are being recorded by employees.

Spieckerman said the cameras will likely be more valuable in collecting evidence against shoplifters rather than deterring them.

Most retail workers are generally not trained to intervene against shoplifters. As a result, some advocates for retail workers feel the body cameras will do little to stop thefts.

TJ Maxx and Marshalls will roll out employee body cameras in move to crack down on shoplifters - The Boston Globe (2)

“What employers really need to do is to provide training for their employees about what to do in difficult situations.” said Appelbaum, the union president. “People need to be trained on deescalation. People need to be trained on what they need to do to protect themselves. And cameras are not sufficient an excuse for not providing that training.”

The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union represents employees at nationwide department store chains including Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, and H&M; TJX retail employees are not unionized. But Appelbaum said the company’s use of body cameras is a troubling sign for the retail industry at large.

Appelbaum also expressed concern that the presence of body cams might be used to surveil workers rather than just capture evidence, allowing retailers to suppress unionization efforts or deter undesirable employee activity.

“Employees feel that they’re under surveillance when they’re exposed to cameras,” he said. “We see that in Amazon facilities, where there are 1,300 cameras in one warehouse watching everything the employees do.”

The TJX spokesperson said body cam footage is only shared “upon request by law enforcement or in response to a subpoena.” The company declined to clarify under what other circ*mstances, if any, the footage might be reviewed by store management.

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Camilo Fonseca can be reached at camilo.fonseca@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @fonseca_esq.

TJ Maxx and Marshalls will roll out employee body cameras in move to crack down on shoplifters - The Boston Globe (2024)
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