Johannesburg - South Africa has experienced a surge in retail crime and is now one of the top five countries worst hit by shop theft.
The annual cost of retail crime amounts to R426 for each South African household and is considered a "major problem" when compared against other countries, says a retail research expert.
"In value terms, it's massive. The figures are not good," said director of the Centre for Retail Research (CRR), Joshua Bamfield.
In its latest global retail theft barometer CRR surveyed 41 countries, with South African retailers placed among the top five leading victims of theft, along with countries like Mexico and Turkey.
At the year to end-June 2009, South Africa's retail stores lost about R5.8bn ($777m) due to crime and waste. As a percentage of total retail sales (shrinkage), this amounted to 1.72%. In 2008 the shrinkage rate was 1.59%, and in 2007 it was 1.53%.
The 8.2% jump in shrinkage from 2008 to 2009 is the biggest increase in the world, apart from in the US (8.8%).
However, in isolation this year's figures saw India hardest hit by sticky fingers and waste at 3.2% of total sales, amounting to a total loss of US$2.63bn.
Unemployment takes its toll
"Reports from both retailers and police show that as unemployment has risen; there has been an increase in retail crime," Barnfield said in a statement.
"With regards to the role of the recession, while we did notice a temporary shift towards the theft of basic items, the trend has shifted back to smaller luxury goods," said Pick n Pay spokesperson Tamra Veley.
Still, Pick n Pay is bucking the trend and hasn't encountered higher theft in 2009.
But while the group hasn't seen an increase on the whole during the past year, theft of two products - razor blades and the drink sweetener Canderel - have risen.
According to the CRR, the most stolen items of retail merchandise in all 41 constituents was branded, expensive products in cosmetics and skincare, alcohol, ladies' apparel, perfumes, the latest in trend wear and, of course, razor blades.
However, the year's biggest threat is approaching and as the season meant for giving takes hold, retail outfits will be looking out for Christmas takers.
Said Veley: "Pick n Pay continues to raise the bar in terms of security, and to this end we work closely with role players such as the shopping centres and the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa."
"Crime at Christmas is massive and South Africa is no exception", said Bamfield.