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Politics & Law Series: Expert Comment

Annual Retail Crime Survey reveals the £1.9 billion cost of crime to the sector

Dr Emmeline Taylor, Reader in Criminology at City, University of London, provides an overview of the results

by Sophie Cubbin (Head of Communications and Events)

The British Retail Consortium’s (BRC) annual Retail Crime Survey has revealed the vast cost of crime to people and businesses up and down the country.

The total cost of crime and crime prevention for retailers was £1.9 billion last year, up 12% from the previous year (£1.7bn). This was made up of £900 million direct cost from retail crime, and £1 billion spent in efforts to prevent crime.

The direct costs of crime included a £700 million loss arising from customer theft, a 31% rise on the previous year.

Customer theft

Dr Emmeline Taylor, Reader in Criminology at City, University of London, conducts research into criminal behaviour including shoplifting, robbery, burglary and surveillance.

Dr Taylor has worked with retailers in Australia on strategies to reduce shoplifting and published research on the increase in theft at supermarket self-service checkouts.

Commenting on the findings of the BRC’s Retail Crime Survey, she said:

Customer theft is on the increase. There are multiple factors that could be contributing to this, most significantly - the introduction of self-service checkout, the reduction in police numbers meaning that police cannot always attend an incident due to resource limitations, and changes in the law.

For example, the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 allows anyone stealing goods costing less than £200 to plead guilty by post - or face the magistrates' court. The impact of ‘austerity’ measures across the criminal justice is undoubtedly impacting on levels of theft and violence across the retail sector.

Violence towards staff

The Survey also found that violence remained a key issue this year. On average, 115 retail employees were attacked at work every day.

Dr. Taylor explained that the survey highlights some emergent concerns in the sector:

“Incidents of violence and verbal abuse experienced by shop workers is increasing in both frequency and severity. This is no secret to the industry, particularly those selling fast moving consumer goods such as food and beverages. We know retailers are suffering from heightened levels of in store violence directed at staff as a result of age-related sales - such as for alcohol or solvents - and when challenging shoplifters.

“Verbal abuse and violence is being directed at employees who are simply doing their job – working on the checkout, stocking shelves, and serving customers. More needs to be done to protect our shop workers from this type of abuse.

“The survey findings show that more than 800 retail employees are physically attacked each week, and many more are verbally threatened or abused. It is worth pointing out that this is likely to be a huge underestimate as many incidents go unreported.

“With the number of police officers in England and Wales at the lowest recorded level since the early 1980s it is unsurprising that 80% of respondents describe the police response to retail crime as poor or very poor”.

Greater protection for workers

The BRC is working with a number of organisations to campaign for greater protections for retail workers.

Helen Dickinson OBE, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium, said:

“We hope this report will act as a catalyst for Police and Crime Commissioners around the country to take action. Retail crime should be explicitly addressed by Police and Crime Plans. Furthermore, Parliament must play its part in stemming this tide of crime by creating a specific criminal offence to protect retail employees from assault at work, as has been done for emergency workers.”

The BRC Retail Crime Survey covers the period from 1st April 2017 to 31st March 2018 and includes the responses of surveys who collectively control 11,000 stores and £103 billion of turnover, equivalent to just under one-third of the retail market.

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