MADISON (WKOW) -- This time of year can be great for business, but the crowds can also hurt because studies show shoplifting increases around the holidays.
The National Association for Shoplifting Prevention (NASP) estimates there are 27 million shoplifters in the U.S., but even more go unnoticed every day. Throughout every year, retailers across the nation lose about $13 billion to shoplifters.
The Centre for Retail Research estimates U.S. retailers will lose more money than ever this holiday season: $8.8 billion; half of that to employee theft and $3.7 billion to shoplifters.
The Wisconsin Retail Association (WRA) encourages small store owners to focus on their employees because prevention comes down to good training.
"To allow those store owners first and foremost to find out what they need to do to educate and inform their employees," says WRA executive director Scott Newcomer. "Security cameras are great but people always find a way to get around security cameras."
Area store managers hope the more their employees interact with customers, the bigger the sales will be, and the better watch they'll have on possible troublemakers.
"The more knowledge the staff has, the more empowered they feel," says Zoe Schuler, manager at Cornblooms in Madison. "I think that's what's going to reduce the theft."
Managers remind employees that awareness during the busy season is most important.
"More crowds of people, more people coming through the store, definitely just being aware of who's in the store-- where they are where your high theft items are," says Kelly Nigl, manager at Playthings in Madison.
If awareness isn't enough, security teams are on hand in most Madison malls, for stores to turn to for help. They patrol both inside and outside in the parking lots to ensure safety for mall employees and customers.
WRA's Newcomer says an even bigger issue for retailer losses is theft that happens before the merchandise even hits the stores. In these crimes, thieves will steal products off trucks, often pretending to be an employee.
Newcomer says WRA is working to combat these problems in Wisconsin. Earlier this year, Governor Scott Walker signed a bill that lowers the felony charge theft amount from $2,500 to $500, hoping to stop more criminals from repeat crimes.
NASP reports three percent of shoplifters are what they call professionals, or habitual thieves. Experts say it can often be a crime of addiction, so the non-profit offers counseling services and classes for people of all ages. Visit the NASP website for more information.