Business Law & Compliance

Price tag of £700m put on UK's rising retail crime

6 min read

08 March 2018

UK retailers have seen a "concerning spike" in severe violence against employees and a continued rise in retail crime such as shoplifting, new industry data has revealed.

Increases in retail crime are in stark contrast with “record amounts” of investment in prevention measures, it has been revealed.

The UK’s largest retail businesses each reportedly spending tens of millions per year tackling criminal activity.

According to the British Retail Consortium’s (BRC) annual Retail Crime Survey, the total direct financial cost of all retail crime has risen to £700m, an increase of six per cent.

The survey found that the “biggest concern” has come from the growth in severe violent incidents causing injury to retail employees – with incidents occurring at twice the rate compared to the previous year.

Financially, however, the largest single element of the overall cost of crime to retailers remains “customer theft” – or shoplifting – which accounts for £500m per year, an increase of 15 per cent.

In the 12 months when the data was collated, from April 2016 to March 2017, BRC members were reported to have spent an average £29m per company on tackling non-cyber crime, compared to £6.7m the previous year.

Investment in prevention measures to tackle cyber-crime specifically averaged £8m per member – an increase of 400 per cent. Nearly half of respondents in the survey said they had seen an increase in the number of cyber-attacks in the last year.

But while most areas of criminal activity increased, the direct cost of fraud reduced by £27m, or just under 15 per cent, to £155m. The figure includes several different fraud types, including “card not present” and supplier fraud.

High priority

The BRC, which represents 104 members with a combined annual turnover of £137bn, representing almost 40 per cent of the UK retail marketplace, is now calling for retail crime to be treated with a much higher priority, reflecting the industry’s impact on the economy and employment.

It is “strongly recommending” that police and crime commissioners look carefully at making specific reference to retail crime in their police and crime plans.

BRC chief executive Helen Dickenson said: “Retail directly employs nearly one in every ten workers in the UK, and millions more indirectly.

“Retail already faces its own challenges, with margins shrinking, and against that backdrop the pressures that retail crime exerts are having a stronger impact. In particular, the figures on violence present a deeply concerning picture.”

She added: “Retailers are doing everything possible to ensure that staff members and customers are safe and protected.

“But they are now spending record amounts on crime prevention, which is a drag on the economic viability of shops and not infinitely sustainable.”

The crime prevention tactics retailers are turning to fight rising crime include investment in more sophisticated technology, and better equipment and training for employees.

Self-police

James Martin, the BRC’s crime and security advisor, said: “Crime prevention spend covers a wide range of areas, including investment in new technology, where there are continuing advances in CCTV. We are also seeing greater use of body cams for deterrence and conviction purposes.

“When it comes to technology such as facial recognition, whilst there is some interesting work there is more work to do before the technology can be adopted more widely if that’s the best way to identify known criminals.”

However, the survey highlighted that the UK’s retail community – while having their own role to play in identifying, reporting and stopping crime – should not be pressed into taking on tasks that should fall to the police.

It stated: “If retailers continue to have to effectively ‘self-police’ in a number of areas and across a wide range of crimes, then the necessary level of spending may not be available and current services provision may be threatened. The risks to jobs in the community is obvious.”

Facial recognition

A BRC spokesperson explained: “We have absolute respect for the work of the police and the commitment and bravery shown by individual officers, and recognise the challenging prioritisation they and police and crime commissioners face.

“But given that around ten per cent of the UK’s total workforce is directly employed by the retail industry, with millions more indirectly employed, and the challenging conditions it faces, we think there is a clear case for retail crime to be given a greater priority in their police and crime plans and operational decision-making.

“We are already working with innovative partners to build the right kind of give and take partnerships which do that, and will gladly assist others who are interested in how to best do that.”

One company focused on empowering retailers and businesses of all types with a low-cost solution for tackling crime is Facewatch, including access to market-ready facial recognition technology.

Facewatch CEO Nick Fisher said: “Our mission is to commoditise facial recognition for all business and launch the greatest advance in security since the introduction of CCTV.  We designed this solution in response to rising crime rates, to empower frustrated retailers to self-help.”

He added: “Retailers are not reporting crime because they believe nothing will get done and 56 per cent of businesses believe the police are poor at dealing with retail crime and yet crime rates are three times higher than in 2008.”