Retail Crime Surges by 50% to 16.7m Incidents Last Year

Violence and abuse against shop workers rose to 1,300 incidents a day last year, according to a leading trade body.

According to the British Retail Consortium (BRC), incidents targeting staff escalated by 50% in the period leading up to September 2023, marking a stark increase from the previous year’s count of 870 incidents daily.

Criticism was directed at the government by the BRC for what it deemed as “woefully inadequate” measures to address the burgeoning “crisis”.

The Home Office has been approached for comment on this concerning trend.

The toll exacted by shoplifting in the past year hit a record high, as per the survey conducted by the BRC.

Various business leaders have urged for specific legislation in England and Wales to criminalize violence against shop workers, akin to existing laws in Scotland.

The BRC outlined a range of incidents faced by retail staff, spanning from racial abuse and sexual harassment to physical assaults and threats involving weapons, with approximately 8,800 of these occurrences resulting in injuries throughout the year.

According to the BRC survey, instances of theft by customers doubled to a staggering 16.7 million incidents annually, a significant surge from eight million previously recorded.

Helen Dickinson, the BRC’s chief executive, emphasized the urgency of the situation, stating, “No one should have to go to work fearing for their safety. This is a crisis that demands action now.”

Retailers incurred losses amounting to £1.8 billion in the latest year due to shoplifting, a figure unprecedented in scale and the first instance where it surpassed the £1 billion mark, according to the BRC.

Some retailers highlighted shifts in shoplifters’ behaviour amid the cost-of-living crisis, transitioning from pilfering one or two items to larger-scale theft.

Incidents against staff tripled during the Covid-19 pandemic and have since remained at markedly elevated levels.

Approximately £1.2 billion has been allocated by retailers toward crime prevention measures, encompassing investments in CCTV, bolstered security personnel, and the deployment of body-worn cameras.

The BRC said the government’s Retail Crime Action Plan provided “hope” as it pledged a police commitment to prioritise crime scenes where there has been violence against a shop worker.

In November, an open letter spearheaded by the Institute of Customer Service garnered support from over 50 businesses, including John Lewis and the Post Office, alongside several MPs, urging the government to enhance the recording of assaults on shop workers for improved statistical tracking.

Highlighting a significant uptick in violence against its shop workers, the Co-op reported 1,325 physical attacks on staff in 2023.

John Lewis’ chief executive underscored the gravity of the shoplifting epidemic in remarks made in September, echoing the concerns echoed by other industry leaders.

 

Jason Towse, Managing Director, Business Services at Mitie comments on the British Retail Consortium’s Retail Crime Survey 2024:

“The new figures show there are now 1,300 violent and abusive incidents against shopworkers per day up from 837 in the previous year. Over the course of the year that is 475,000 people who have faced physical or psychological harm just by going to work. This is beyond unacceptable.

Nobody should be faced with violence at work. The proposed amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill to introduce a standalone offence of assaulting, threatening or abusing a retail worker must be supported, a clear signal that violence will not be tolerated.

Amending the Bill alone is just one element in a package of solutions. With multiple drivers of retail crime, we need a consistent, multi-layered approach to stamp it out. Criminals are constantly evolving their techniques and so must the retail industry if it is to gain the edge over offenders.

Pegasus, a new initiative launched in late 2023, brings together a powerful combination of industry leading technology with highly trained specialists. Through Pegasus, the sharing of anonymised information between 13 retailers including Boots, M&S and Co-op is already starting to build a bigger picture of retail crime across the UK.  Crime hotspots and patterns can be mapped, and data can be provided to the police. An organised crime gang can be tracked from Liverpool to Leicester to Llandudno.

For retailers, the security industry, police and the Government, it’s important that we continue to collaborate to fight retail crime or we will find ourselves looking at a further increase over the next 12 months. We cannot let that happen, our retail workers, and their families, deserve better. Shoplifting is not a victimless crime”.