The British Retail Consortium (BRC) crime survey, published in May 2023, showed that incidents of violence and abuse towards retail colleagues had almost doubled on pre-pandemic levels to 867 incidents every day in 2021-22.
The consortium also put the scale of retail theft at £953m, despite over £700m in crime prevention spending by retailers. It estimated the total cost of retail crime stood at £1.76bn for the 12-month period to April 2023.
A separate BRC survey of members in July 2023 found that levels of shoplifting in 10 major cities had risen by an average of 27%.
The retailers writing to the home secretary include: Dr Martens, Ann Summers, Burberry, Dune, H&M, Harvey Nichols, Jigsaw, John Lewis Partnership, JoJo Maman Bébé, JD Sports Fashion, Liberty Retail, Marks & Spencer, Matalan, New Look, Primark and Radley.
The letter makes two demands of the government.
Retailers want the government to create a standalone offence of assaulting or abusing a retail worker, with tougher sentences for offenders. This would act as a deterrent and provide a clear message that parliament will not tolerate this behaviour. It would also require police forces to record all incidents of retail crime, allowing for better allocation of resources to the issue.
They also want greater prioritisation of retail crime by police forces across the UK. For one major retailer, the police’s own data shows that they failed to respond to 73% of serious retail crimes that were reported. 44% of retailers in the BRC’s annual crime survey rated the police response as “poor” or “very poor”.
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC, said: “It is vital that action is taken before the scourge of retail crime gets any worse. We are seeing organised gangs threatening staff with weapons and emptying stores. We are seeing violence against colleagues who are doing their job and asking for age-verification. We are seeing a torrent of abuse aimed at hardworking shop staff. It’s simply unacceptable – no one should have to go to work fearing for their safety.
“It’s time the government put their words into action. We need to see a standalone offence for assaulting or abusing a retail worker – as exists in Scotland. We need government to stand with the millions of retail workers who kept us safe and fed during the pandemic – and support them, as those workers supported us.”