Organised retail crime (ORC) is continuing to grow in the United States, with the number of dollars lost topping a key threshold for the fifth year in a row and three-quarters of retail companies that have been victims saying ORC activity has increased, according to the 16th annual ORC study released recently by the National Retail Federation (NRF).

“Retailers are seeing more cases and higher losses as organized crime continues to target stores, warehouses and cargo,” NRF vice president for research development and industry analysis Mark Mathews said.

“Retailers are investing millions to fight these crimes, but they need more help from law enforcement and, most of all, they need tougher laws that recognise the difference between petty shoplifting and professional crime for profit,” he said in a statement.

The survey found 75 per cent of loss prevention executives at a cross-section of large and mid-sized retail companies saying ORC activity had increased in this year, up from 68 per cent last year. Losses averaged $719,548 per $1 billion in sales, a 2 per cent increase from last year and the fifth year in a row that the figure topped the $700,000 mark.

Current losses compare with only $453,940 in 2015, and the increase of nearly 60 per cent comes as many states have raised the threshold of what constitutes a felony, allowing criminals to steal more before being subject to stronger penalties than a misdemeanor.

Among retailers surveyed, 64 per cent have seen an increase in average ORC case values in states where that has happened, up sharply from 51 per cent who said the same each of the past two years.

Close to two-thirds (61 per cent) of retailers said their companies are prioritising ORC more than they were five years ago, with 52 per cent allocating more technology to reducing risks such as ORC-related thefts and 36 per cent increasing loss prevention budgets.

Retailers are looking for more support from law enforcement, with only 64 per cent saying they were satisfied with help received from local police (down from 84 per cent last year), 55 per cent with state authorities (down from 75 per cent) and 50 per cent with federal agents (down from 69 per cent).

ORC often crosses state lines, and around 70 percent of those surveyed each of the previous three years had said a federal ORC law is needed. But with no action on ORC in Congress in a decade, the number fell to 62 per cent this year.

Retailers cited relaxed law enforcement guidelines, changes in shoplifting laws and decreased penalties for shoplifting among the causes for increased ORC.

Stolen merchandise is sometimes returned for store credit, usually in the form of gift cards. Those cards can then be sold for cash, and 59 per cent of retailers had found them for sale on websites, up from 51 per cent last year.

ORC gangs typically steal a mix of valuable high-end products and cheap but easier to fence everyday necessities. Some of the top items included designer clothing (reported by 34 per cent), laundry detergent, (21 per cent), razors (20 per cent), designer handbags (16 per cent), deodorant (15 per cent) and laptops/tablets, high-end liquor, infant formula, pain killers and allergy medicine (tied at 13 per cent each).

The top five cities for ORC in the past year in order were Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, New York and San Francisco.