Retailers losing £3.5m per day in stolen goods amid shop theft surge as cost of living crisis bites

10 October 2023, 07:51

Shops have now taken to marking high value items with tracking stickers
Shops have now taken to marking high value items with tracking stickers. Picture: Alamy
Connor Hand

By Connor Hand

Britain’s shop theft crisis is set to cost retailers around £1.3 billion this year, new data shared with LBC has revealed.

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It means shops across the UK are losing a shocking £3.5m worth of stock each day to theft, representing a 25% rise on figures from 2022.

According to the Centre for Retail Research, which has compiled these statistics, industry figures have noted a "big jump" in the number of people stealing from their stores, driven by the cost of living crisis and organised gangs.

The group's director, Professor Joshua Bamfield, warned LBC that these factors teamed with a light police presence, have emboldened shoplifters: "These days a lot of people come in, fill up a big bag with stuff, make no attempt to pay, and then leave the store. They don’t expect to see the police, security or anything at all - and that’s new.

"In 2011 when there were riots in London and a few other places, people said this was shocking. But now what you’re seeing is a general trend throughout the UK.

"It’s something that has really been growing since last year, and whilst it’s not necessarily come to the peak, it has increased - particularly in 2023. Retailers who previously said ‘we don’t normally have a problem’ now have a problem."

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Professor Bamfield also revealed that products such as Viagra and contraceptive pills were "top of the pops" for thieves looking to score a quick turnaround on stolen products.

"There are people who are stealing jars of Marmite, baked beans, chickpeas and so on, but most of the losses are actually seen in goods that are easy to resell.

"Expensive pharmacy" such as Viagra and contraceptive pills are perfect examples of this, he says, because "it’s got a good price, a good demand and is a homogeneous product."

Alongside this rise in shop theft, retailers have seen a steep escalation in the amount of abuse being directed at their staff. The British Retail Consortium notes that there are now 850 incidents of abuse daily - almost double the figure from four years ago.

This dramatic increase has prompted some of the industry's biggest names, including Boots, Tesco, Sainsbury's and WH Smith, to write to the government demanding sterner penalties for those that assault shopworkers, akin to the Protection of Workers Act in Scotland, which made it a specific offence to assault, threaten or abuse a retail worker.

A sign is aimed at potential shoplifters Sainsbury's Clapham branch. Supermarkets have recently spoked of high levels of shoplifting causing them problems
A sign is aimed at potential shoplifters Sainsbury's Clapham branch. Supermarkets have recently spoked of high levels of shoplifting causing them problems. Picture: Alamy

Yet some have expressed scepticism as to how much difference the legislation has made to the problem in Scotland, as many areas have continued to witness considerable increases in shop theft.

Fife, for instance, has seen the most marked rise in shoplifting of anywhere in the UK - up 47% in just a year. There, LBC spoke to local shop owner Umar, who detailed the difficulties he's facing on a near-daily basis:

"We have so many shoplifters now. Every second day I catch somebody. It's a bad situation now compared to a few years ago. You can't trust anyone.

"A lot of them are regular customers who used to spend a lot of money. You can't believe that now they've started stealing. I believe the cost of living crisis is having a big impact.

"I believe the Act [Protection of Workers SCO Bill] has made no difference at all either. The people that attack us don't care. They still do, they have no bother, no fear - there's been no change."

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While the government introduced an aggravated factor for assaulting a shop worker in England and Wales back in 2022, it is unclear how many people it has been applied to as it only ever features in sentencing remarks.

Campaigners are calling for greater clarity in the collation of these statistics as part of the measures to protect workers.

Last week, Policing Minister Chris Philp came under fire for suggesting that members of the public should perform citizens' arrests on those attempting to shoplift, with the CEO of Tesco, Ken Murphy, saying the firm is "really clear with our colleagues and customers that we would absolutely not want them to put themselves in harm's way."