Target to close 2 stores in Seattle, citing theft that threatens workers, shoppers

Target will close nine stores in four states, including one in East Harlem, New York, three in San Francisco, and two in Seattle, saying that theft and organized retail crime have threatened the safety of its workers and customers.

The closings, which will be effective Oct. 21, also include three stores in Portland, Oregon. Target said that it still will have a combined 150 stores open in the markets where the closures are taking place. Target will offer affected workers the opportunity to transfer to other stores.

The two Seattle locations that will close will be the one along University Way and the one in Ballard. Prior to Tuesday’s announcement, the city had five in total, in Northgate, Ballard, the University District, Pike Place, and Westwood Village.

On Tuesday, The U-District Partnership sent a statement that says in part:

When Target Market arrived in the U District, the neighborhood was excited to have a full-service retailer who could support the growing residential and student populations. Their local and regional team have been great partners, investing in the U District Partnership’s safety ambassador program, and working closely with the community to understand how best to combat retail theft.

Target’s departure will be a loss for the U District and points to a much larger issue facing our city. Theft and organized retail crime continue to thrive, unchecked in Seattle–facilitated by loosely regulated online marketplaces and fueled by the insatiable demand of the current fentanyl crisis. Our local leaders must continue to act with great urgency to stem the impacts of this ecosystem on our city. - The U-District Partnership

In early September, KIRO 7 reported on several Target locations across the Seattle area that had begun locking an array of items behind glass cases to mitigate shoplifting. A city audit published in July found that the Targets at Pike Place, Northgate, and Westwood Village were among the top 10 stores that Seattle police responded to for shoplifting calls in 2022.

“I’m very sad about the announcement it’s horribly unfortunate,” said Mark Johnson from the Washington Retail Association. “Retailers are in the business of opening stores not shuttering stores but if you cannot guarantee the safety of your team members and the customers, I am not surprised that is a decision they finally had to come to.”

We asked him why he thinks Seattle sees so much theft.

“If you steal from a bank or a credit union, it’s a federal offense and they will track you down and it is 99% sure they’re going to catch you and you’re going to serve some serious time. If you steal from a retail establishment the chances of being apprehended are low, the penalties are low, the reward is extremely high, you can monetize these stolen products very easily and fund your criminal activities,” said Johnson.

We also talked to a Target customer about the decision.

”That’s pretty sad though that this target is closing down, it’s convenient because when I’m in this area I don’t want to drive all the way to south center I could just stop by this Target,” said Michael.

We asked if he had seen crime in the area.

“It kind of does surprise me I ain’t never seen nothing like that over here,” he said. “I did think that was weird that I did see a lot of security up in there like that and I noticed, I went to go get Cortozone and this one wasn’t closed up but they had closed up like a bunch of medicine and stuff and I was like man this reminds me of the Bay Area.”

Target described the decision as “difficult.”

“We know that our stores serve an important role in their communities, but we can only be successful if the working and shopping environment is safe for all,” Target said in a statement on Tuesday.

Before making the decision, Target said it had invested heavily in strategies to prevent and stop theft such as adding more security team workers, using third-party guard services and installing theft deterrent tools like locking up merchandise. It also has trained store leaders and security team members to protect themselves and de-escalate potential safety issues. But it noted that despite those efforts, it continued to face “fundamental challenges” to operate the stores safely — and the business performance at these locations was unsustainable.

While the store closings account for just a fraction of the 1,900 stores Target operates nationwide, the move is significant. It underscores the big challenges that retailers like Target face in reducing theft in stores as they wrestle with protecting their workers and customers while trying to serve the community, particularly low-income and minority groups who rely on the local stores for necessities.

For example, the Target store in East Harlem is located in a heavily Hispanic area, and residents have few choices to buy good quality healthy foods. In San Francisco, one of the stores slated to close is located at 13th Street and Folsom under a busy overpass with homeless tents in a largely commercial neighborhood with auto shops. In Seattle, one of the stores is located on a busy avenue near the University of Washington.

Target CEO Brian Cornell has been one of a handful of retail CEOs flagging what they described as rising theft over the past year or so. Cornell had held steadfast he didn’t want to resort to closing stores even despite mounting losses. Target said in May that theft was cutting into its bottom line and it expected related losses could be $500 million more than last year, when losses from theft were estimated to be anywhere from $700 million to $800 million. So that means losses could top $1.2 billion this fiscal year.

Moreover, Cornell told analysts in August that violent incidents against workers at Target stores increased 120% for the first five months of the year compared with the same period a year ago.

“Our team continues to face an unacceptable amount of retail theft and organized retail crime,” Cornell told analysts. “Unfortunately, safety incidents associated with theft are moving in the wrong direction.”

The announcement also comes as Target is still reeling from being targeted for its LGBTQ+ support, in particular, its displays of Pride Month merchandise. In late May, ahead of Pride Month, Target pulled some items in particular regions and made other changes after encountering hostility from some customers who confronted workers and tipped over displays. Target said the moves were made to protect workers in the store.

It’s unclear how much money retailers broadly are losing due to organized retail crime -- or if the problem has substantially increased. But the issue has received more notice in the past few years as high-profile smash-and-grab retail thefts and flash mob robberies have garnered national media attention. Over the past few quarters, an increasing number of retailers including Dick’s Sporting Goods and Ulta Beauty have been calling out rising theft, calling it a factor in shrinking profits.

The National Retail Federation, the nation’s largest retail trade group, said its latest security survey of roughly 177 retailers found that inventory loss -- called shrink — clocked in at an average rate of 1.6 % last year, representing $112.1 billion in losses. That’s up from 1.4% the previous year.

The greatest portion of shrink — 65% — came from external theft, including products taken during organized shoplifting incidents, the trade group said Tuesday. More than two-thirds of respondents said they were seeing even more violence and aggression from perpetrators of organized retail crime compared with a year ago.

The NRF said that even though retailers continue to improve their loss-prevention measures, sometimes more drastic action must be taken. Nearly 30% of retailers surveyed reported being forced to close a specific store location, and 45% said they needed to reduce operating hours. Roughly 30% said they needed to change or reduce product selection in stores as a direct result of retail crime.

Late last year, Congress passed a bill, called the INFORM ACT, that seeks to combat sales of counterfeit goods and dangerous products by compelling online marketplaces to verify different types of information - including bank account, tax ID and contact details - for sellers who make at least 200 unique sales and earn a minimum of $5,000 in a given year.

Target said Tuesday that it’s making significant investments in cyber defense to combat retail theft and fraud and has teamed up with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Security Investigations division to combat retail theft.