Merchandise theft has long plagued retailers, but they say it's become even more of a problem over the last few years.
Store product losses, also called retail shrink, amounted to nearly $100 billion in 2022, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation.
Doug McMillon, Walmart Inc.'s chief executive officer, said in a recent interview on CNBC that theft is a growing issue for the giant big-box retailer.
"It's higher than what it's historically been," he said. "We've got safety measures, security measures that we've put in place by store location."
A good relationship with law enforcement plays a big part of Walmart's strategy, McMillon said.
"It's really city by city, location by location," McMillon said. "It's store managers working with local law enforcement and we've got great relationships there for the most part and that's the way we approach it."
Still, McMillon said, "over time, prices will be higher and stores will close" because of retail theft.
Walmart did not immediately respond to an inquiry for more specific information about how theft is affecting the company financially and what measures it's taking to deter it.
But retailers report that losses are shifting away from simple shoplifting to theft by organized crime rings.
Carol Spieckerman, a retail consultant and president of Spieckerman Retail, said the retail shrink problem stems from a combination of petty theft and organized retail crime, but the latter is emerging as a bigger concern.
"Legislation hasn't caught up with retail reality -- there are regulations for old-school pawn shops but not for online marketplaces where stolen goods are fenced," Spieckerman said.
"I expect retailers to band together and lobby for legislative solutions this year and to independently increase investments in theft-thwarting technology," she said.
Susan Reda, the National Retail Federation's vice president of education strategy, said in her 10 retail predictions for 2023 that "the forecast for 2023: more headaches to come."
But she said that retail theft, along with a higher incidence of store violence, will finally spur action on a federal and state level.
A bill titled "Combating Organized Retail Crime Act of 2022" was introduced in the House of Representatives on Oct. 14 by four members of Congress.
The bill, which can be found at Congress.gov, would establish an Organized Retail Crime Coordination Center at Homeland Security Investigations. The center would combine "expertise from federal, state and local law enforcement agencies along with retail industry executives to create a cohesive national strategy and curb organized crime," the bill's sponsors said in a news release.
According to the release, the bill is endorsed by the National Retail Federation, the Retail Industry Leaders Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association and other groups.
The bill's sponsors include U.S. Rep. Susie Lee, D-Nev. Lee said in a statement that organized retail crime "is coming at great cost to consumers and retailers."
"Transnational criminal groups not only hit hard-working Americans' wallets through retail theft, but they also threaten our public safety with bolder, more violent attacks on American retailers," Lee said.
"The stolen proceeds also support these groups' money-laundering operations and other despicable activities like human trafficking, weapons smuggling and terrorism financing," Lee said.
Retailers are now talking more openly about retail theft and how it's become an even greater blow to their bottom lines, Spieckerman said.
"Walmart has openly expressed frustration with lackluster legislation and regional inconsistencies," she said. "Theft is treated as a misdemeanor, even if it is perpetrated across hundreds of stores."
Lee said that in its last earnings report, big-box retailer Target Corp. specifically quantified the effect that retail theft has had on the company.
"It's clear that store associates can't be expected to throw themselves into dangerous enforcement situations, and in some cases, local law enforcement teams don't have the bandwidth to do so either," she said.
In the 2022 Retail Security Survey by the National Retail Federation, 53% of retailers reported they'd seen an increase in organized retail crime, while none reported a decrease.