Everyday goods like butter and coffee locked away in secure cases in stores as shoplifting epidemic bites

11 September 2023, 09:25 | Updated: 20 September 2023, 10:12

Basic goods are being tagged or locked away as some retailers turn to facial recognition amid widespread shoplifting fears
Basic goods are being tagged or locked away as some retailers turn to facial recognition amid widespread shoplifting fears. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

High street stores are being forced to lock everyday items away securely amid fears of widespread shoplifting.

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Retailers are turning themselves into fortresses and bringing in security guards, electronic barriers for self service checkouts and facial recognition systems to stop theft.

Basic items like washing powder are being locked up to stop them being swiped from shelves, while "dummy" coffee tubs have to be taken to the tills to be swapped out for a real product.

In extreme cases recently there have even bouts of organised shoplifting. Last month, a TikTok call for mass theft in Oxford Street forced police to descend on London's shopping district while outlets called in extra security.

It comes as the British Retail Consortium (BRC) warned widespread shoplifting was contributing to a 27% rise in losses - with about £1bn a year being ceded due to theft.

Basic food products are now being tagged
Basic food products are now being tagged. Picture: Alamy

Police recorded more than 330,000 cases of shoplifting in the year to March - of which 48,000 led to charges - but the BRC estimates there have been at least eight million instances.

The crimes come amid a cost of living crisis as Brits suffer under rampant inflation.

Read more: Shoplifting crisis is a 'policing capacity challenge', says Met Commissioner

Iceland has resorted to putting laundry products into security cases in some stores.

Sainsbury's has caused controversy with some customers by installing barriers that force you to scan a receipt after going through self-service to deter people from walking out with stolen goods.

In Tesco, simple everyday products like mince or pies have a "security protected" label tagged on them, while sun cream has been put into secure boxes in some Co-op stores, which has also encased bottles of honey.

Shoplifting crisis is a ‘policing capacity challenge’ says Met Commissioner

The supermarket said one of its shops in inner London was "looted" three times in one day and claimed crime was getting "out-of-control" and "unsustainable", and that "some communities [could] become a no-go area for local stores".

Dunelm is putting duvets and pillow cases behind cabinets locked via a PIN.

Read more: Dunelm puts bed linen in secure cabinets in shoplifting epidemic linked to cost-of-living crisis

Stores are reportedly security tagging basics like milk, baby formula or butter.

Ten retailers are planning to bring in "Project Pegasus" - a system where they pay police to scan shoplifters' faces through the Police National Database, which uses facial recognition technology.

This could help forces crack down on shoplifting gangs. Tesco, Sainsbury's, Waitrose and the Co-op are among those taking part in the £600,000 scheme they will help fund.

Police deployed en masse to Oxford Street in August to deter a planned shoplifting spree
Police deployed en masse to Oxford Street in August to deter a planned shoplifting spree. Picture: Alamy

Policing minister Chris Philp hopes to build a shoplifting database that retailers can use to help crack down on the crime, with the most prolific thieves being targeted better.

Last week, Lord Stuart Rose, the chairman of Asda, warned shoplifting has almost become "decriminalised".

"It's actually just not seen as a crime anymore," he told LBC, acknowledging that police have "lots of other things to do".

"We should make it very clear to people coming in to shop that if we do catch them stealing things we will prosecute them if we can and it's become a bit of a game," he said.

But Lord Rose said he did not want to have to turn to body worn cameras to protect staff.

He added: "We don't use [body worn cameras] unilaterally but I don't really want to get to a world where you sit down and everybody is photographing everybody else for whatever action they take.

"That's not a good place to be but we do have to be careful about how our staff are exposed to dangers."