Co-op, a prominent UK retail chain, has witnessed a troubling surge in shoplifting incidents during the first eight months of this year, marking a 41 percent increase compared to the previous year.
Paul Gerrard, the chain’s campaigns and public affairs director, also noted a concerning uptick of 25 percent in cases of violence directed at store staff.
To combat this issue, Co-op has invested in highly trained undercover security guards, often comprised of former police and military personnel, who make citizen’s arrests on thieves.
However, Gerrard revealed that, in the majority of these cases, they are forced to release the offenders due to the police failing to respond.
This alarming situation has left Co-op struggling to protect its stores and staff.
Ineffectual Police Response
Despite their meticulous efforts, Co-op’s undercover security guards are often left in a frustrating predicament.
After detaining a shoplifter and requesting police assistance, they are left waiting in vain as the police fail to show up in a staggering 80 percent of cases.
This lack of timely response poses significant challenges to Co-op’s security efforts, as they hold offenders under control with CCTV evidence to support their claims.
In some ways, this delayed response is even more detrimental than not intervening at all, as shoplifters realize that they can evade consequences even when caught in the act.
This mounting issue highlights a severe gap in law enforcement’s ability to address retail theft promptly.
Rising Epidemic of Shoplifting
Paul Gerrard’s concerns mirror those of other retail executives across the UK, who have been sounding the alarm about the escalating crisis of shoplifting on the high street.
The situation is so dire that Sharon White, chair of John Lewis, described it as an “epidemic.” Co-op alone reports approximately a thousand shoplifting incidents daily across its 2,500 stores.
The severity of the problem is underscored by the fact that four or five employees are physically attacked every day, often involving dangerous weapons such as syringes, knives, and even medieval maces.
This surge in shoplifting is not mere opportunism but is driven by organized gangs and individuals targeting stores to steal significant quantities of merchandise.
The British Retail Consortium’s data reveals a 27 percent year-on-year increase in reported retail thefts across ten major UK cities, with some cities experiencing a shocking 68 percent rise.
Equally concerning is the near-doubling of incidents involving violence and abuse directed at retail staff. Such crimes encompass racial and sexual abuse, physical assault, and threats involving weapons.
As the situation worsens, the need for more stringent enforcement measures and support for retailers becomes increasingly evident.
Inconsistent Policing and Urgent Solutions
Paul Gerrard highlights the inconsistency in police response across various regions.
Some police forces, like Essex, Sussex, and Nottinghamshire Police, have collaborated with Co-op to apprehend prolific offenders successfully.
However, this demonstrates that the problem is solvable and primarily concerns specific habitual offenders.
Co-op and other retailers urge police forces to prioritize this issue and work closely with them to combat persistent and prolific shoplifters.
At present, many police forces do not consider retail theft a priority and advise reporting it to emergency numbers.
Immediate action and legislative changes are needed to protect shop workers, maintain the viability of stores, and curtail the surge in retail theft.
National Concern: John Lewis Partnership’s Perspective
John Lewis Partnership (JLP) also joins the chorus of concern regarding shoplifting’s financial toll. JLP is facing a staggering £12 million increase in the cost of shoplifting, primarily attributed to a rise in organized crime.
Dame Sharon, the chairwoman of JLP, emphasized that the recent spike in shoplifting is not solely linked to the soaring cost of living but is largely driven by organized crime groups.
JLP is urging the government to amend legislation in England and Wales to criminalize the abuse of shopworkers, aligning with existing rules in Scotland.
This move aims to enhance the protection of retail staff and deter potential offenders.
Rising to the Challenge: Lidl’s Security Investment
Lidl, the German discount supermarket chain, has also acknowledged the growing issue of shoplifting and is taking proactive steps to enhance store security.
They are increasing CCTV coverage and deploying more body-worn cameras in their outlets to address the rising rates of theft.
Ryan McDonnell, chief executive of Lidl’s British business, highlights that this is not just a challenge for one retailer but a social issue affecting the entire industry.
Industry competitors are collaborating with the British Retail Consortium and engaging with the government and police to find collective solutions.
The safety and security of workers remain a paramount concern, and the industry is committed to working together to combat this pressing problem.
The escalation of shoplifting and associated violence in the UK has become a pressing concern for retailers like Co-op and John Lewis Partnership.
These incidents, driven by organized groups and individuals, are wreaking havoc on store operations and endangering the safety of employees.
The inadequacy of police response and inconsistent enforcement across regions further compound the problem.
Immediate attention, legislative changes, and enhanced cooperation between retailers, law enforcement, and the government are essential to curbing this growing epidemic of shoplifting.
The industry as a whole recognizes the gravity of the situation and is committed to finding effective solutions to protect both employees and businesses.