It's a cat-and-mouse game catching shoplifters. Whether it is people making up for a bad economy, it's costing business some big losses.
Shoplifters are making this a season to remember. Just Thursday, Stephanie Martinez, who sells chestnuts outside the Union Square Macy's, got to see a show.
"Someone got busted for shoplifting and they were waiting for the person outside. They started running and they tackled them and they just put them in handcuffs," said Martinez.
Stores around Union Square have hired extra security to keep an eye on the crowds. It's a subject that shop managers don't like to talk about, although some clerks say they can spot trouble a mile away.
"You can kind of tell. They have a look on them, they're looking around, trying to look around the area, seeing who's watching as opposed to looking at the product usually," said Gino Bautista, a store clerk.
According to national estimates, shoplifters made off with more than $1.8 billion in just the month leading up to this Christmas. That's an increase over the $1.7 billion over the same period last year.
"Unfortunately, there are those that don't get it and do things they ought not to do, but we put the officers where we want them and the community supports each other by looking out for one another," said San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr.
Police watched over crowds near Union Square on Friday night. The holiday season is always a big time for shoplifters who can take advantage of distracted sales clerks. Shoplifters' favorite targets are high-end liquor, designer clothes, and perfume. At Bloomingdale's, Graham Hackett of Petaluma saw security guards watching shoppers like a hawk.
"In one small area, three security guards. I thought that was a bit over the top, where I usually never saw anybody," said Hackett.
One estimate says one in 11 Americans will shoplift. There is a debate over whether the tough economy is making people more desperate to steal or if it is just the thrill that shoplifters get during this prime season.
Retail sales are expected to jump nearly 4 percent this year. ShopperTrak.com is predicting that the day after Christmas - called Mighty Monday - will see 60-percent more customers in the stores compared to last year. Many, like Target and Best Buy will extend their hours and offer big promotions like we saw on Black Friday.