The British Retail Consortium’s (BRC) annual Retail Crime Survey has revealed the vast cost of crime to people and businesses up and down the country. The total cost of crime and crime prevention for retailers was £1.9 billion last year, up 12% from the previous year (£1.7 billion). This was made up of £900 million in direct costs from retail crime and £1 billion spent on efforts to prevent crime.
The direct costs of crime included a £700 million loss arising from customer theft. That represents a 31% rise on the previous year. At £1.9 billion, the total cost of crime is equivalent to approximately 20% of the estimated profits of the entire retail industry.
The human cost of criminal enterprise is also laid bare as the BRC Survey reveals that an average of 115 retail employees were attacked at work every day. The use of knives by assailants was pointed out as being an issue of significant concern.
Approximately 70% of respondents described the police response to retail crime as poor or very poor. While opinions showed the police response was generally better for violent incidents when compared to customer theft or acts of fraud, only 20% of respondents considered the response to be either good or excellent.
Helen Dickinson OBE, CEO of the BRC, commented: “Violence against employees remains one of the most pressing issues retailers face, yet once again we have seen an increase in the overall number of incidents. Such crimes harm not just hardworking employees, but also their families and communities. No-one should go to work fearing threats and abuse. The spiralling cost of retail crime – both in terms of losses and the cost of prevention – is a huge burden for a retail sector that’s already weighed down by the twin challenges of skyrocketing business costs and uncertainties around Brexit.”
Dickinson added: “We hope that this report will act as a catalyst for Police and Crime Commissioners around the country to take action. Retail crime should be explicitly addressed by Police and Crime Plans. Furthermore, Parliament must play its part in stemming the tide of crime by creating a specific criminal offence to protect retail employees from assault at work. This has already been done for emergency workers.”
Spend on cyber security measures
Retailers are spending 17% more on cyber security than last year (£162 million). Nearly 80% of the retailers surveyed have seen an increase in the number of cyber attacks.
Responding directly to this finding, Clare Gardiner (director of engagement at the National Cyber Security Centre) said: “The NCSC is committed to helping to improve the UK’s cyber security, which is why we’ve worked in partnership with the BRC to produce the BRC Cyber Security Toolkit. Cyber attacks can have a huge impact. To help potential victims proactively defend themselves we’ve published a range of easy-to-implement guidance on our website. Organisations can also share threat intelligence in a confidential way through the NCSC’s online Cyber Information Sharing Partnership, which increases awareness to dangers and reduces the impact on UK businesses.”
The BRC is working with a number of organisations to campaign for greater protections for retail workers. On that note, Paddy Lillis (general secretary of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) stated: “Life on the front line of retail can be pretty tough for many shop workers and there’s still much to be done to help protect them. We launched our ‘Freedom From Fear’ campaign in the face of growing concerns among retail staff about violence, threats and abuse. The campaign works with employers to promote respect and make shops safer for staff.”
Lillis concluded: “It’s time for the Government to act by providing stiffer penalties for those who assault workers. We need a simple stand-alone offence that’s widely recognised and understood by the public, the police, Crown Prosecution Service, the Judiciary and, most importantly, criminals. Shop workers are on the front line of helping to keep our communities safe. They have a crucial role that must be valued and respected.”
The BRC’s latest Retail Crime Survey covers the period from 1 April 2017 to 31 March 2018 and includes the responses of those who collectively control 11,000 stores and £103 billion of turnover (equivalent to just under one third of the retail market).