SHOPLIFTERS and staff are stealing stock worth over €500m from Irish stores a year.
The problem has intensified in the past two years, with gangs now blitzing towns and cities for high-value branded goods and jewellery.
Experts have also noted a surge in theft of everyday goods such as meat, cheese, razor blades, pizzas, deodorant and coffee.
Ibec's retail division estimates that €512m worth of goods is stolen from stores a year, with a survey of its members indicating that the problem is getting worse.
In 2009, 19pc of retailers reported theft of stock but this soared to 35pc in 2012. Ibec's retail director Stephen Lynam said staff were responsible for around one-third of the thefts and shoplifters the rest.
"This is a staggeringly high cost that is factored into retailers' pricing decisions, so the consumers ultimately pay for the criminal activity of the few," Ibec's 'Tackling the Black Market and Retail Crime' report found.
Shoplifting and break-ins now add up to 10pc to the operating costs of some retailers.
The UK-based Centre for Retail Research said shoplifting in Ireland was particularly acute over Christmas, making it the worst in Europe as retail crime cost €54 per household. But there had also been a surge in theft of everyday goods, said its chief, Professor Joshua Bamfield.
"In Ireland (and the UK) there has been an upsurge in theft of household items like meat, cheese, joints of meat, pizzas, Lynx deodorant, coffee presumably for domestic use and for resale to neighbours," he said.
Fashion items, including anything leather, were always popular, he added.
Many traders in Dublin, Limerick and Cork are now resorting to radio networks in which all store security guards can be warned if teams of shoplifters are targeting specific areas.
But the shoplifting teams operate for less than an hour in the cities and towns before fleeing with their takings.
The gangs include both Irish and eastern European criminals.
In December, a car containing three Dublin criminals was stopped in Glanmire, Co Cork, and found to contain €36,000 worth of stolen jewellery in a hidden compartment.
In another Cork raid, two Dublin-based women stole clothes worth over €6,000 in less than three hours from 10 boutiques, including Brown Thomas, Oasis, Fran & Jane, Gap, Vero Moda, Wallis, Pamela Scott, Monsoon, Fat Face and Tommy Hilfiger.
Cork Business Association official Donal Healy said gardai were doing everything possible to tackle the gangs but traders faced a very difficult situation given the sheer numbers involved.