*San Francisco* – The city by the bay is facing a retail crisis of unprecedented proportions as businesses grapple with a surge in thefts and organized “smash-and-grab” robberies. In a move that reflects the dire situation, retailers are abandoning self-checkout lanes in what’s being dubbed a “defensive retailing” strategy.

At the forefront of this transformation are two prominent stores: a Safeway supermarket in San Francisco’s Fillmore District and a Mission Street Target. These businesses have made the bold decision to close their self-checkout kiosks to customers, and others across the city are closely monitoring the situation, poised to follow suit.

Daniel Conway, Vice President of Government Relations for the California Grocers Association, commented on this shift, saying, “While I can’t speak for any one company, if you look at the trajectory of commerce over the last few millennia, it’s always been about reducing friction for customers. However, we’re now witnessing a countervailing trend – armed guards and even Tide Pods are being locked up.”

The alarming rise in retail thefts, coupled with brazen “smash-and-grab” heists, has hit San Francisco hard, and this problem isn’t unique to the Golden Gate City. Major cities across the nation are grappling with similar challenges, leading to store closures and a reevaluation of retail strategies.

Target, for instance, blamed rising crime rates when it closed down three of its San Francisco stores back in September, according to reports from SFGate. In 2021, Safeway also had to cut employee hours at one of its San Francisco locations due to rampant theft.

As retailers grapple with these challenges, there’s a growing sentiment that self-checkout machines might be linked to the rising thefts. The Post reached out to Target and Safeway for comments on their decision to remove these machines, but responses are pending.

The latest data from the San Francisco Police Department reveals a concerning trend – while there were 61,715 reported cases of larceny and theft in 2022, 2023 has seen a significant drop to 29,739 cases. This decrease may offer a glimmer of hope, but the problem still looms large.

To address this issue, California announced a $267 million initiative in September to support local law enforcement agencies in their fight against “smash-and-grab” robberies. Governor Gavin Newsom’s office reported that since 2019, law enforcement in California has arrested over 1,250 individuals and recovered $30.7 million in stolen merchandise.

The retail crisis extends beyond California, with New York store owners estimating losses of $4.4 billion in the past year due to retail theft, according to The Retail Council of New York State.

San Francisco isn’t alone in its struggle. Cities like Chicago and Minneapolis have also experienced large-scale thefts, with groups of individuals orchestrating mass shoplifting events and smashing display cases.

As retailers adapt to these challenges, they risk making the shopping experience more cumbersome for law-abiding customers. Daniel Conway expressed this concern, stating, “All the measures put in place to reduce friction are now being reversed. I can buy anything I want on my phone, but when I want to visit a store to make a purchase, it’s becoming more difficult. It’s challenging to establish a direct correlation, but in San Francisco, it seems that store closures are becoming a form of defensive retailing.”

The retail landscape is changing rapidly in response to the rising tide of theft, and retailers in San Francisco and beyond must navigate these treacherous waters to protect their businesses and customers alike.

In this challenging environment, one thing is clear – the retail world is evolving, and businesses must adapt to survive.