STUDY: Are Flea Market Products Stolen Goods?

How many flea market products present a compelling threat to retail stores?

flea market products

In each edition of LP Magazine, the Loss Prevention Research Council (LPRC) team will feature a past LPRC or University of Florida (UF) study that typically includes the topic, research method, research findings, and implications. This study looked at some flea market (noted theft demand centers) dynamics.

There are over 5,000 flea market type operations in North America, of which at least 1,000 are considered semipermanent. These markets are also referred to as swap meets, trash and treasure, boot sales, and outdoor markets.

The Nature of Flea Market Products

Many studies across the globe have demonstrated some booth operators in some flea markets do deal in stolen property. However, most booth operators and even most markets do not have stolen items available. Of special note, flea markets can be good selling channels for stolen property, but there are often easier ways to convert stolen product to cash online via small stores, other small business and street fences, drug dealers, friends and coworkers, and by exploiting liberal or poorly executed store refund policies and practices.

Almost 100 flea markets were randomly selected from a guide of 1,000 locations and visited by our teams to assess the availability, pricing, and condition of a high-loss men’s shaving product as example of flea markets and stolen products activity. Approximately one third of the markets had the shaving items for sale, with a handful offering the item for sale with EAS or store stickers on them.

A second phase of the research involved our teams offering premium blade replacement packs for sale to 28 booth operators in several markets in Florida that had Gillette blades on display. The product was offered for sale in pristine condition, in torn packaging, with store-logo-stickered packages, and out of the packaging—to determine the effects of these conditions on the price offered by operators. Twenty-one of 28 booth operators who were offered the shaving product (which was described as stolen) also purchased the items.

There was no real difference in “wholesale” pricing with all the items other than a slightly lower price offered for the completely out-of-package items or competing or store brand. One booth operator placed the packs with retailer-specific stickers in front of other non-stickered items claiming the retailer logo marketed that it was “legit.”

The following are action steps to consider:

  • Certain flea markets and certain flea market products appear to present a compelling threat to some stores. It is difficult to determine a robust method for determining whether a local market is a threat without periodic surveillance by store staff, by law enforcement partners, and by debriefing detained shoplifters.
  • Product marking with secured retailer-specific logos did not appear to deter flea market operators from buying the goods, nor did they diminish the price in this relatively small pilot test. Evidence from this study supports the hypothesis that marking may not always deter boosters or fences, but does significantly aid in recovery and mapping organized retail crime (ORC) networks and stolen goods’ flow.

Please let me know any questions you might have on this very abbreviated study summary.

This post was excerpted from “Footprints and Flea Markets,” which was originally published in 2017. This post was updated June 20, 2018.

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