In recent months, the Co-op and other retailers in the UK have experienced a surge in shoplifting incidents, leading to concerns about the safety of staff and the viability of keeping stores open. The Co-op reported its highest-ever levels of retail crime, with nearly 1,000 incidents occurring each day. The police are said to have failed to respond to 71% of serious retail crimes, and this lack of support has left retailers feeling vulnerable.
The rise in shoplifting has been attributed to both individual theft driven by desperation and organised criminal gangs taking advantage of weakened policing. Poverty campaigners highlight the link between the cost of living crisis and some individuals resorting to theft out of necessity. Retail experts argue that the lack of police resources has created an environment in which criminal gangs can engage in “organised looting”.
Not only are retailers suffering financial losses, with shop thefts costing £953 million in 2022, but the impact on staff is increasingly concerning. Cases of violence and abuse against staff are occurring daily, with more than 850 incidents recorded per day. Verbal abuse is also prevalent, with 87% of convenience store workers experiencing it over the past year.
To combat these escalating issues, retailers like the Co-op have implemented various measures, including the use of body-worn cameras, headsets for staff, and “dummy” packaging to deter thieves. Additionally, undercover guards have been hired to detain shoplifters, although the response and attendance of the police remain inconsistent.
The consequences of this surge in shoplifting extend beyond financial losses, as retailers are forced to consider the commercial viability of their stores. Some high streets have already become “shells of their former selves” due to the impact of organised looting. This has raised concerns about the future of smaller retailers and their role in the community.
Overall, the rise in shoplifting incidents in the UK poses significant challenges for retailers, impacting their financial well-being and the safety of their staff. Urgent action is needed to address these issues and provide adequate support to retailers and their employees.
1. The Guardian – “Retailers consider closing stores due to high levels of shoplifting”
2. The Telegraph – “Shoplifting in UK a ‘looting epidemic’, warns John Lewis chairman”
3. British Retail Consortium (BRC) – Crime Report 2022
4. Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) – Crime Report 2022