TikTok's Shoplifting Trend Is Problematic — But The Issue Goes Deeper Than Theft

There's a shoplifting epidemic, and TikTok doesn't seem to be helping.

Shoplifting, cost of good going up PeopleImages, MART PRODUCTION, JLGutierrez, Изображения пользователя SERSOL | Canva

There are whispers and murmurs in the corporate retail world that there’s a shoplifting epidemic on the rise. According to the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) annual survey that includes around 60 retail companies, shrink, another word for merchandise loss, has increased in recent years, and researchers are attributing that spike in loss to theft.

Coincidentally, shoplifting seems to be a growing trend on TikTok. As social media users try to skirt around the app’s guidelines, the search for “borrow tip and tricks” has amassed over 8.9 billion views, all filled with videos of people “borrowing” and giving tips on how to do it.


The TikTok shoplifting trend is problematic but goes much deeper than theft.

Shoplifting is against the law. “Thou shalt not steal” is one of the ten commandments in the bible. Theft and robbery of consumer goods could even turn into a felony depending on the value of what’s being stolen — it’s a big no-no, and we’ve all grown up understanding that it’s a bad thing. So why do people steal?

Surely, people aren’t stealing just because people are posting videos about it on TikTok? Trends like the #DeviousLick challenge might tell you otherwise. 

RELATED: Doctor Who Grew Up On Food Stamps Responds To Woman Concerned That Her Tax Dollars Pay For The Program


But there are many reasons someone might resort to stealing goods, and one of them is they had no other choice.

According to a new Mind over Money survey by Capital One and The Decision Lab, more than three in four Americans (77%) report feeling anxious about their financial situation. Americans are concerned about their financial futures, with 56% of Americans worrying about how they’re going to keep up with the cost of living.

Many people don’t. In 2021, the official poverty rate in the US was 11.6 percent, meaning 37.9 million people are living in poverty. Inflation and the cost of living have continued to rise as wages continue to stagnate and companies refuse to increase worker compensation to adjust.

Not only that, but the laws surrounding shoplifting have gotten far more lax in recent years as well.



RELATED: After A Single Mom On Government Assistance Is Offered A Promotion, She Does The Math & Realizes She Can't Afford To Make More Money


People may be stealing because it’s simply easier to do it now.

According to the NY Post, many experts believe that because of a law that was passed in New York City in 2014 — the Prop 47 Law which states that robbery isn’t a felony until the value of items stolen totals $950 — people have found it easier to steal.

Thanks to large movements and yells to “defund the police,” there’s also an idea that the police have resigned themselves from doing their jobs. The city also has a “catch and release” stance on crime which means that there’s no longer bail for crimes, including petit larceny.

In July 2023, a CVS employee stabbed a serial shoplifter to death after being punched during a theft in Midtown Manhattan. Minority Leader Joe Borelli spoke with The Post, and said “I’m sorry the man died. But I cannot exist in a world where we pretend that endemic theft without consequence can continue in perpetuity,” hoping to get some help with the NYC District Attorney on how to solve this supposed increase in shoplifting.

RELATED: Concerned Neighbors Successfully Rally To Find Mother Who Was Filmed Dragging Her 9-Year-Old Daughter By Her Hair


In 2021, shrink hit $94.5 billion, up 4% from 2020, but a 53% spike from 2019. However, on average, the shrink rate as a percentage of sales has actually decreased to 1.4% in 2021, down from 1.6% in 2022.

These numbers suggest that there isn’t really a shoplifting epidemic, but the nature of TikTok has placed the idea of it at the forefront of our minds. The shoplifting trend is problematic and no one should be breaking the law, but it’s important to understand the reasoning behind people who feel like they have nowhere else to go.

RELATED: Retail Worker Shares The Outfits Her Job ‘Dress Coded’ Her For — And The Exact Reasons Why


Isaac Serna-Diez is an Assistant Editor for YourTango who focuses on entertainment and news, social justice, and politics.