The British Retail Consortium’s annual retail crime survey provides an in-depth look into a problem which has cost UK retailers a huge £7bn in the past five years.
Statistics on burglaries, robberies and till snatches make for worrying reading, as does the increasingly ingenuity of fraudsters, but without doubt the most disturbing finding was the growth in abuse against retail staff.
The 2004 survey, sponsored by ADT, shows that verbal abuse rose by 35% compared with 2003, and physical violence was also up by 14%. This has been a continuing trend since 2000.
BRC director general, Kevin Hawkins, said: “Retail crime is not victimless; it leaves scars not only on business viability and retail workers, but also on the community, with the significant costs of prevention often passed on to all threads of society.”
Hawkins warned that the culture of under-reporting retail crime meant the figures may well “only be the tip of the iceberg”.
So what can be done to address the issue?
Shopworkers’ union Usdaw believes that a zero-tolerance approach is required.
John Hannett, general secretary of Usdaw, said: “Violent offenders must get the message that shops have a zero-tolerance policy for violence and we will continue to work with retailers, police, local authorities and consumer groups to make sure every store is as secure as possible.”
Which is unarguable, but retail employers have been calling for a more practical approach to cutting down attacks on staff.
One scheme which is beginning to make some headway is ShopWatch, which sees store staff becoming part-time police officers and patrolling high streets, shopping centres and retail staff, with special constables.
Under the scheme, in return for the donation of a staff member’s time for training and one day per fortnight for patrols, the retailer benefits from a dedicated police presence.
Employers involved in the scheme say they are now seeing the clear impact on the bottom line and employee retention when they have a member of staff doing their day job with the added benefits of police training, powers and intelligence.
Nick Wood, managing director of Dixons’ owned mobile phone retailer The Link, said: “When Dixons first piloted ShopWatch with the Met, our participating employees said they felt more attuned to spotting crime, and more confident in tackling criminals and shoplifters. Aside from the obvious financial benefit, the staff development alone makes this scheme worthwhile to us.”
The Metropolitan Police, initially in association with Dixons Group and Woolworths, pioneered the scheme in February 2004. It is now running in five areas in London, with expansion to other regions such as Birmingham in the pipeline.
But despite the success of initiatives like ShopWatch, the problem of retail crime is still growing and the BRC has called on the governnment to raise awareness of the impact of violence against retail.
In addition, the BRC said, crime reporting must be encouraged to aid fuller analysis of the true extent of retail crime.
Hawkins said: “The Home Office and police must recognise that retail crime goes to the heart of much of what is bad in our society – lack of respect, aggression, violence and drug and alcohol abuse.
“In a very real sense, it’s a scar on local communities and should be regarded as such.”