Shoplifters, beware. Nearly invisible eyes are watching you as county supermarkets and small businesses ramp up high-tech video surveillance.
Retail theft nationally amounts to about $30 billion a year, according to the FBI. And 96 percent of store owners report they were theft victims last year, according to the National Retail Federation.
Guido’s Fresh Marketplace has 50 cameras in each of its Pittsfield and Great Barrington stores. Co-owner Christopher Masiero recently hired Lenox resident Louis Senecal, 40, to serve as the full-time loss-prevention manager.
In his new position, Senecal — formerly an operations manager for KB Toys — can check a 30-day video archive.
Masiero said he realized the need for the new position as the family business evolved.
“People who shoplift are really savvy; they know if there is or isn’t a system in place,” he said. “Since Lou has come on, people are aware that we are watching them.”
When shoplifters are caught, he said, “It sends a message out into the community that we, in fact, are not kidding around.”
The entire staff is trained in theftprevention techniques.
“If everyone thinks of loss prevention as their job, it helps us. We’re not losing money, and it helps customers by keeping prices low,” Senecal said. “There’s a big benefit.”
Although some shoplifters are motivated by economic need, Senecal said, others are “addicted” to the crime.
Masiero — noting that high- end health and beauty aids in small packages are most attractive to thieves — has witnessed customers take items off the shelves, bring them to a clerk, then claim they lost their receipt as they seek a refund. Others switch price tags, putting a $ 2 sticker on a $ 20 item and then claiming that the UPC ( Uniform Price Code) stamp on the product is inaccurate.
Senecal said he’s confident that the vast majority of shoplifters at Guido’s are intercepted. But, as Masiero observed, “It’s a challenge to stay on top of the new ways people come up with to scam the system.” “Shoplifters don’t want to be noticed,” Senecal said. “They don't want to be talked to or helped.”
A similar theme was expressed by Donna Todd Rivers, the owner of Bisque, Beads & Beyond, a small store on North Street in Pittsfield that went through the theft of an entire display of bracelets.
Rivers said she urges her staff to “be aware of guests when they arrive and establish a personalized relationship. If people’s intent is to shoplift, they’ll turn around and walk out the door.”
Merchandise theft “is a much bigger problem than I’d like to admit,” she acknowledged, blaming the economy in part.
Although Rivers installed surveillance cameras costing thousands of dollars, they were less of a deterrent than she had hoped.
“Unfortunately, it’s part of the cost of doing business,” she said.
At the family-owned Price Chopper supermarkets, a full-time loss-prevention manager is responsible for the chain’s five Berkshire County stores.
Jen, 26, who declined to give her last name for personal security reasons, has cracked many cases, resulting in arrests and court penalties. She estimates that more than 75 percent of incidents end with positive identification and prosecution.
She monitors an array of high-definition, big-screen video monitors with zoom lenses providing close-ups of inside and outside activity.
“It’s definitely state of the art,” Jen said. “ I like to watch people. It’s an amazing job, and it’s different every day.”
Retail theft by the numbers ...
Annual losses: $30 billion to $36 billion (national).
Annual impact: 96 percent of store owners (national).
Most stolen items: Baby formula, energy drinks, razors, beer, liquor, high-end beauty aids.
Cases prosecuted: 75 percent of incidents (local estimate).
Causes of shoplifting: Organized retail crime, weak economy, addiction to theft.
Resources to aid shoplifting addicts: www.shopliftingprevention.org.
Sources: FBI, National Retail Federation, Berkshire County loss-prevention managers.