UK retailers worried downturn will lift shoplifting rates

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 21st October 2008

British retailers are concerned that the economic slowdown will wipe out falls in retail crime achieved over the last year.

The British Retail Consortium’s (BRC) Retail Crime Survey 2008, published on Monday, showed numbers of customer thefts down 26 per cent in the year to April and employee theft plummeting 56 per cent in the same period. The issue of shoplifting is still a costly one for retailers, however, as indicated by the fact that an offence takes place every 90 seconds – on average.

Retailers believe the reductions were a result of economic stability during that period, improved policing and their own spending on crime prevention.

“The credit crunch threatens to bring an abrupt end to this trend,” Director General Stephen Robertson said. “Recent reports have focused on a surge in shoplifting and fuel thefts. Retailers are preparing for a rapid rise in offences and are adapting crime prevention methods, for example, placing electronic security tags on expensive cuts of meat.”

Using modelling from the last recession, a leaked Home Office document warned of a significant rise in theft, burglary and violence as a result of the economic downturn.

This year’s BRC survey shows shoplifting is the most costly crime for shops. It accounted for 64 per cent of all retail crime losses. Well above burglary (16 per cent), robberies (8 per cent) and employee theft (8 per cent).

The BRC retail crime statistics are consistently higher than official recorded figures, indicating retailers continue to believe it is often not worth reporting crime to the police.

The Australian Retailers Association reported earlier this year that shoplifting figures in Australia rose from 1.5% of revenue to 2% between November last year and April; costing retailers approximately $5.8 billion annually.

The increased cost of living pressures brought about by two rate rises and rising inflation were credited with the increase in theft, and the anticipated slowdown in Australia could be expected to have a similar alarming impact on shoplifting.

The greatest increase in shoplifting was for basic necessities, with baby food, tinned food and butter proving to be the most popular food items.