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The retail trade body the British Retail Consortium’s (BRC) says its annual Retail Crime Survey shows a concerning spike in violence against staff causing injury, with the number of incidents happening at twice the rate of last year’s survey, the previous record.
The BRC describes a mixed picture in this year’s survey. Some areas have seen noticeable improvements, such as fraud, where the cost to retailers has fallen by nearly £30m, as a result the trade association says of their significant investment in prevention.
Despite that spending, the total direct financial cost of retail crime has climbed to £700m – an increase of six per cent from the previous year. ‘Customer theft’ remains the largest element, now over half a billion pounds a year, a 15 per cent increase on the previous results.
The BRC points to the growth in severe violent incidents against staff. BRC members report that career criminals intentionally use violence and abuse when challenged over stealing. The increasingly common requirements for retail colleagues to age-check and refuse sales, is also triggering increasing violence and threats.
The rate of these incidents of violence with injury has doubled since the previous year to six per 1000 members of staff.
Helen Dickinson OBE, pictured, Chief Executive of the BRC 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. That is why we are working to build a new model for co-operation around tackling retail crime, and encourage decision-makers throughout the country to apply the priority these issues deserve.
“In particular, the figures on violence present a deeply concerning picture. Attacks on retail workers are intolerable, and our members are completely clear that keeping their staff safe and providing an environment in which they can work free of fear from threats and violence, is their first priority.
“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. A new approach is required. Working with our key partners, we at the BRC are seeking to deliver an agreed strategy to halt violence and abuse in its tracks.”
At the shop workers’ union Usdaw, John Hannett, General Secretary pointed also to a survey by Usdaw that returned, he said, ‘truly shocking results’. He said: “The clear message to Government is there is a need to do more. A properly funded and well-resourced police service is essential to halt the dramatic rise in retail crime. We have to question whether the cutting of 20,000 police officers in the name of austerity is behind these survey results.
“Shopworkers are on the frontline of policing the law on the sale of alcohol, knives, glue and acid. Parliament has given them the responsibility to police those laws, so parliament should provide shopworkers with the necessary protection. It is entirely reasonable that shopworkers continue to ask the Government for legislation to provide stiffer sentences for the thugs that assault them. It is time to say enough is enough. Retail staff have a crucial role in our communities and that role must be valued and respected.”
Matt Sebek, Vice President of Digital at cloud and ‘big data’ company World Wide Technology (WWT), says: “The surge in retail crime as well as increased spending on retail crime prevention, needs to be met with a well thought-out strategy. New retail environments such as Amazon Go raise a host of new theft opportunities. Amazon have taken a high-tech approach, investing in face recognition and motion sensors within their new stores. However it is possible to thwart this technology – sometimes by simply wearing a cap over the face!
“In our theft prevention work with retailers, we’ve found that a softer approach is possible, driven by data. In 2017, a leading café chain in the US introduced a ‘rapid pick up’ scheme to enable faster click and collect services. They, like most retailers, were worried that this would increase theft vulnerabilities.
“A whole host of data can be used to help prevent theft. Data from RFID tags can be used for both real-time and historical reporting, allowing us to track which products were most picked up, moved around and most vulnerable to being stolen. Using the in-store network, we also look at customer journey patterns to design a store plan which places the most vulnerable items in the most secure location. Using this multi-faceted approach, there is usually no increase in theft when stores introduce a quick pick-up option.
“Retail crime prevention can be boiled down to the data of ‘Who What and Where’. Looking at the data from customers who are logged into in-store WiFi, for instance, store managers can access a real-time view of the movement in their stores, identifying the customers present and areas where there is crowding. Similarly, RFID tags give insights into movement of high-value products through the stores. Data can also be used to identify busy periods of the day or the week to increase vigilance accordingly.”