Trends & Features

Shoplifting at record level in the UK

Consumers unwilling to give up their luxury lifestyles in the recession are fuelling retail crime, according to the 2009 Global Retail Theft Barometer published today (November 10) by security and merchandising specialist, Checkpoint Systems.

Shoplifting has surged in the past 12 months, increasing by nearly 20 per cent across the UK high street and topping £4.88billion for the first time.

The annual study conducted for Checkpoint Systems by The Centre for Retail Research shows that over £750million more items were stolen than in the same period in 2008, reaffirming the UK’s position at the top of the retail crime league table in Europe for yet another year, ahead of Germany and France.

With an average shoplifting ‘bill’ of £80.31, it is no surprise that expensive branded goods were top of thieves’ shopping lists this year. Clothing and fashion accessory stores saw one of the highest increases, with shoplifting jumping some 8.8 per cent to now account for 1.85 per cent of total sales, with branded and designer clothing, football shirts, lingerie and leather items featuring high on our thieves’ wish lists.

This is followed closely by DIY and hardware outlets up four per cent to 1.82 per cent of sales, where high-ticket items such as power tools are a firm favourite with light-fingered customers; and speciality food and convenience stores, up 8.4 per cent to now account for 1.8 per cent of sales, with cooked and fresh meat, cheese, seafood and fish, and alcohol all featuring strongly on the most stolen list.

“The UK’s retail industry has seen its largest ever increase in shoplifting over the last 12 months, and it comes at a time when the industry can least afford it,” says Neil Matthews, vice president of Checkpoint Systems NCE.

“But what is perhaps as surprising as the figures themselves is that we are not simply looking at your traditional shoplifters here. We are seeing more instances of amateur thieves stealing goods for their own personal use rather than to sell on than before.

“This is epitomised in the recent uprising of the middle-class shoplifter, someone who has turned to theft to sustain their standard of living, and this is driving theft of items such as cosmetics, perfumes and face creams, alcohol, fresh meat, mobile phones, computer games and DVDs, as well as small electrical goods like cameras, iPods and personal care gadgets.”

This year’s report – the largest of its kind surveying over 1,000 retailers worldwide – also highlights that while external theft (opportunistic shoplifters and organised gangs) represents the most common source of theft, accounting for 43.5 per cent of all stock going missing, employee theft is also on the rise. This is a worrying trend as these ‘silent shoplifters’ from within are more prolific than external thieves, and account for an average loss of £1,585.66 per incident.

The UK ranks the second worst in Western Europe (behind Ireland), with 36.4 per cent of all loss down to dishonest employees – and this looks set to continue over the festive period as retailers take on large numbers of temporary staff in the run-up to Christmas.

Over the past 12 months, UK retailers have invested £926million in an attempt to combat shoplifting. However, with nearly a third of merchandise still unprotected, shopkeepers are offering an open invitation for consumers to steal from their outlets. And it is this complacency that has seen the UK retail industry spend an equivalent of just 0.26 per cent of sales on security measures in the past year – lower than the majority of its European counterparts.

Matthews says: “Loss from retail crime is often viewed as simply a cost of doing business. But as the report clearly demonstrates, the social and economic impact of turning a blind eye is immense, especially in these tough economic times.

“Retailers simply cannot afford to ignore this problem, it is not going to go away and is the equivalent of criminals taxing every UK household £227 per year.”

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