The last time I bought body wash at a downtown CVS, I had to call over an employee just to unlock the glass case. What? Why would anyone want to steal plastic bottles of soap worth a few bucks at best? The answer might surprise you.
Alex Mayyasi, writing for Priceonomic's blog, has dug up a neat piece of research about the motivations of thieves. It turns out that cheap and useful stuff like soap, formula, cigarettes, and laundry detergent are perfect for powering the underground economy:
Products like cigarettes and soap perform some of the major functions of money very well. Since there is a consistent demand and market for them, even when they're not on store shelves, they retain their value. (Unlike an iPod, they never become obsolete.) Since they have standard sizes, they can also be used as a unit of account. You can pay for something with one, five, or ten packs of cigarettes depending on its value. In areas where fences or other buyers are always willing to purchase stolen products like soap, it's just as good as money.
That also means this stuff is super easy to sell. Expensive jewelry or a luxury car? You need a large criminal organization to fence it before getting your cash. But finding a buyer for stolen soap and razors is a whole lot easier.
Last year, New York magazine investigated how thieves were stealing laundry detergent to sell for drug money. One Safeway reported losing up to $15,000 a month in stolen detergent. Who would have expected the city's underground economy to intersect with its legitimate economy thanks to such utterly boring products? [Priceonomics]
Top image via Flickr