Wednesday, December 11, 2002

LONDON Surprisingly, men’s razor blades top the list of the most frequently shoplifted items in Europe. Not so startling is that, during the holidays, it’s the Jack Daniels and Jim Beam that thieves are after.

Liquor ranks far ahead of the competition when it comes to Christmastime theft in Western Europe, according to a new report from the Center for Retail Research. Women’s clothing, including the French Connection UK and DKNY brands, comes in a distant second.

The razor blades, particularly Gillette Mach III ones, drop from first on the year-round shoplifting list to sixth on the holiday list.

“If it’s branded and it’s advertised, and it’s going to be accepted as a present, it’s got a high likelihood of getting stolen,” said researcher Joshua Bamfield.

“Some of this is people shoplifting for their own presents,” he added, alluding to the high rate of alcohol theft.

According to the report, thieves will steal $3.2 billion in goods from European retailers between mid-November and the end of the year, the prime shoplifting season. Shopkeepers in Britain, where the problem is the most serious, will lose $709 million.

American brands of whiskey and brandy are targeted most often, probably because the imported liquor is so expensive, Mr. Bamfield said. Often, a thief will snatch one or two bottles per visit, and eventually sell a full case to a bar or a cafe.

Though shoplifters are thought to be mostly female, more men (59 percent) are expected to be stealing this season. The average age of holiday thieves is 23.5, older than the normal average.

Many of the thieves have a romantic bent. Among the most frequently stolen gift products at Christmas are cosmetics, perfume and lingerie. Husbands of shoplifters can look forward to finding after-shaves, clothing and stereos under the Christmas tree.

Even the written word is in demand. Bookstores are suffering heavy losses of stories about Harry Potter, Tintin and Peter Rabbit, along with “Lonely Planet” and “Rough Guide” travel books, the report said. Books make great stocking stuffers and can be resold to street vendors.

There also is a more sinister side to much of the shoplifting. Much of it is driven by the need to buy drugs, or by gangs from Colombia, Russia and Kosovo, who target Europe’s main shopping areas.

A lingering recession in Europe may give a further boost to shoplifting. And some retailers believe the introduction of the single European currency, the euro, meant that some families failed to budget properly and are turning to crime to fill out their gift lists.

Where shoplifting is part of organized crime or when people steal to supply to others, the thieves need to complete their criminal activity a week before Christmas, the report noted. They need time, after all, to pass the merchandise.

The Center for Retail Research, based in Nottingham, England, is an independent organization that investigates losses from retail crime, as well as trends in the industry. Eighty major retailers from 14 nations participated in the Christmas survey.

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