Shoplifting Surge: The High Street’s New Crisis
The UK’s retail sector is grappling with an alarming surge in shoplifting, as revealed in a recent BBC interview with Dame Sharon White, the boss of John Lewis, and by other senior retailers. Over the past year, theft has reached what many are calling an “epidemic”, with offences doubling for the retail giant.
Troy Hewitt, CEO of Assist Security Group (ASG), says:
“We’ve been closely monitoring the concerning rise in shoplifting incidents across the UK. The recent report from the BBC about Dame Sharon White’s comments and the measures being taken by John Lewis and other retailers deeply resonates with us as security specialists in the high-value retail sector.”
This theft surge has affected premium retailers, says Troy Hewitt; those who stock luxury items, electronics, designer wear, and other expensive products have found themselves at increased risk due to the heightened appeal of their inventory for organised crime rings.
The surge represents a direct financial loss from stolen stock but also incurs additional costs in terms of criminal damage, staff time and potential insurance premiums, he says. Moreover, there is a negative impact on brand reputation, as repeated incidents might deter high-end consumers from visiting physical stores, thereby pushing them further towards online shopping.
Added security measures, while necessary, could create an environment of distrust, potentially alienating loyal customers if not applied discreetly. Good security can create an attractive environment, but only when it is well-planned and properly applied, he says.
Consequently, while all retail grapples with this crime wave, high-value retailers face unique challenges that, without solutions, could significantly impact their bottom line and customer relations.
“Retailers must also tackle insider threats too – staff stealing or colluding with criminals. The lure of high-value items tempts dishonest staff to steal stock or work with associates to target items. This needs specific security measures to identify and stop what can be a long-term drain on profits,” says Troy.
The new Project Pegasus initiative – a collaboration of ten retailers to pool £600,000 to better understand shoplifters’ operations using CCTV and data – seeks to curb the immediate threat on the high street but also to understand patterns and behaviours, leading to more efficient countermeasures.
In the BBC interview, Dame Sharon highlighted the daily challenges that retail workers confront. Aside from thefts, there is an escalation of abuse and violent attacks on staff. BRC data further confirms this trend, indicating a 26% rise in retail thefts across England and Wales in 2022. This translates to nearly 850 incidents daily, often involving direct threats or violence against staff.
The news about the Co-op fitting steak and cheese with security tags, and Tesco providing body cameras for staff, shows the situation’s gravity. While necessary now, these measures are not sustainable long-term solutions.
Dame Sharon is advocating a royal commission into the future of British High Streets. With online competition, soaring business rates and the cost of living crisis, there’s a pressing need for a collective approach involving the government, academics, and the security industry to address interconnected issues.
As the sector anticipates further announcements from John Lewis, addressing the multifaceted challenges on our High Streets remains urgent. Only time will reveal the effectiveness of the proposed and executed measures.
“There is a worldwide epidemic in retail crime, it is not just confined to the UK. Our USA division reports that many major retailers are closing down and leaving city centre locations, such as in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago. There is not a simple or easy fix for this – it requires a full understanding of the crime profile at each location and available countermeasures,” says Troy.