Online marketplaces and illegal street vendors are where organized retail theft rings unload their ill-gotten goods, and two new laws before the SF Board of Supervisors would hope to squeeze those markets dry.
We all saw social media footage of the people who ransacked the Union Square Louis Vuitton in November, and within five days, we learned who some of them were. These suspects… do not seem like handbag enthusiasts who collect name-brand purses like they were fine art. These folks likely intended to move those purses through some sort of underground, illicit market, and collect a handsome profit. And as a report in today’s Chronicle shows, their underground, illicit market is not some secret criminal syndicate, but often a platform that you, too, might use regularly — an online marketplace like Amazon, eBay, or Facebook Marketplace.
Is Silicon Valley enabling retail crime? “The biggest reason why (retail theft) is more lucrative today is online marketplaces" https://t.co/KOFIgASpfN— Carolyn Said (@CSaid) December 10, 2021
“The biggest reason why [retail theft] is more lucrative today is online marketplaces,” loss prevention software director Tony Sheppard told the Chronicle. “That’s where the bulk of the stolen products end up. With many online marketplaces, [sellers] don’t have to give valid information. You can say your name is Daffy Duck and open an account.”
It’s one thing for brick-and-mortar retailers to face competition from new business models, it’s another issue entirely when that comes in the form of one business profiting off another’s stolen merchandise. Congress should pass the INFORM Act with no further amendments. https://t.co/UKbioeApVR— Rafael Mandelman (@RafaelMandelman) December 9, 2021
Supervisor Rafael Mandelman wants to go after that practice on a local level. On Tuesday, the board of supervisors unanimously passed his piece of legislation urging Congress to pass the INFORM ACT, which would require online marketplaces to verify who sellers are, and allow buyers to verify who the sellers are. CVS, Target, and Walgreens have been begging Congress to pass the strictest version of this law possible.
“The more I learn about organized retail theft, the more concerned I’ve become about the role that large online marketplaces play in facilitating the sale of stolen goods at an unprecedented scale,” Mandelman said in a statement to SFist. “It’s one thing for brick-and-mortar retailers to face fair competition from new business models, it’s another issue entirely when that competition comes in the form of one business profiting off another’s stolen merchandise.”
This may sound like a symbolic measure. But Mandelman’s district is home to the 'Out of control shoplifting' Castro Safeway, which just added draconian checkout barriers. And Safeway is all in on Mandelman’s resolution.
“The ongoing issue of retail theft at our stores puts our employees and customers in harm’s way,” Safeway spokesperson Wendy Gutshall said in the same statement to SFist. “We fully support the INFORM Consumer Act and Supervisor Mandelman’s resolution to put in safeguards and deterrents to these criminal acts.”
Meanwhile, Supervisor Ahsha Safai has a similar bill that targets street vendors, according to the Chronicle. The image above is what you can see every day outside the 24th Street BART station, as easily a dozen informal booths are selling items that you absolutely know are ripped from a CVS or Walgreens. You see the same thing every day near the 16th Street BART and Civic Center/UN Plaza, and Safai’s legislation (which has not yet gone before the full board) would create a permitting process that hopes to weed out the vendors selling stolen items.
“We see a tremendous amount of goods that are sold on our streets without a license in San Francisco,” Safaí said when introducing his proposal at the November 30 board meeting. “It’s an important piece of legislation that would seek to disrupt and end the selling of stolen goods.”
We’ll see if either of these proposals really makes a dent. Safai’s proposal may or may not create any form of deterrent, Mandelman’s bill may not affect congressional proceedings on the INFORM Act. But something should come from the increasingly clear revelation that when we discuss “organized retail theft,” a crucial part of that organization are the Silicon Valley online retail empires whose lust for growth fuels a market for stolen goods.
Image: Joe Kukura, SFist