Gus Carlson is a U.S.-based columnist for The Globe and Mail
There’s a group of new and dangerous Grinches threatening to steal Christmas this year and they don’t care whether you’ve been naughty or nice.
Robbers, some of them armed, have attacked delivery trucks, threatened drivers and stolen merchandise in several U.S. cities in the past few weeks, adding a new woe to retailers’ growing lists of concerns as the holiday shopping season officially kicked off last week with Black Friday sales.
Big store chains are already battered by losses from rising store thefts by organized crime rings that have prompted store closings in many cities, and nervous about the spending power of inflation-scarred, recession-wary consumers. These delivery-truck attacks are more than bad PR. They have exposed new vulnerability to all-important online sales, which depend on reliable delivery services.
The industry can ill afford this lump of coal in its stocking. A new survey from the National Retail Federation (NRF) showed losses from theft – called shrink – rose to US$112.1-billion in 2022 from US$93.9-billion the previous year. Further, 67 per cent of respondents said they see more violence and aggression related to organized retail crime.
For consumers, it doesn’t matter whether or not there are similar attacks in their neighbourhoods or communities. They will pay for them one way or another. The costs of losses from stolen goods will be passed along in the form of higher prices and fees for online goods.
The rising costs of security measures will drive up prices, too, and qualified labour – already in short supply – will cost more to hire, retain and protect. The ripple effect will be felt all the way down the value chain.
This new breed of sociopath behind the truck attacks goes beyond so-called porch pirates, the cowardly losers who troll neighbourhoods stealing boxes from front stoops when no one is looking. Truck-jackers are bold, brazen and often armed.
In a recent daylight robbery in Atlanta, a group of bandits ransacked an Amazon Prime truck while the driver was making a delivery and fled with armloads of packages. In Maryland, an armed robber hijacked a UPS delivery truck. In Sanford, Fla., a man jumped on an Amazon delivery truck and threatened the driver.
And in the most dramatic incident, motorists in Memphis, Tenn., used their cars to ambush and corner a huge FedEx tractor-trailer, then dozens of people, some armed, rushed the truck, broke open the trailer’s locked rear doors and stole as many packages as they could carry.
Violence toward delivery drivers has risen as consumers have embraced online shopping. Delivery driving is among the deadliest occupations in the country, according to occupational fatalities and injury data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. While most deaths and injuries are from traffic accidents, the data also show drivers are more at risk of assaults than other occupations.
The trend is another blow to a retail sector that has struggled in many cities to make stores safer and more secure while keeping the customer experience civil, if not pleasant. For some, that has meant putting more merchandise in locked cabinets, installing high-tech surveillance systems and hiring guards.
Target chief executive Brian Cornell told investors on the company’s second-quarter earnings call that stores saw a 120-per-cent increase in incidents of violence or threats of violence in the first five months of the year.
In a statement accompanying its survey, the NRF said: “Far beyond the financial impact of these crimes, the violence and concerns over safety continue to be the priority for all retailers, regardless of size or category.”
True enough. But make no mistake, the financial impact will be real and customers will pay for it, regardless of where they live and shop.