Dame Sharon White, Chairperson of John Lewis and Waitrose, has urged the government to implement stricter legislation to combat the surge in shoplifting gangs causing thefts and looting in retailers. This comes as shoplifting incidents have risen by over a quarter within a year, with county lines-style gangs orchestrating thefts for targeted orders. The increase has been exacerbated by the actions of teenage TikTok individuals organizing acts of anti-social behavior in bustling shopping areas like London’s Oxford Street and Manchester city center.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) recently reported a 27 percent rise in reported retail thefts across ten major UK cities, with some cities experiencing a 68 percent increase. During an appearance on Good Morning Britain, Dame White proposed that the government consider introducing new robust legislation to deter criminal activity and anti-social behavior. She shared an example from Scotland where a specific law safeguards shop workers against abuse and attacks, demonstrating the potential effectiveness of such measures.
Dame White emphasized that such legal measures could significantly enhance the safety and longevity of the UK’s high streets. She noted the significance of recognizing that these crimes are not trivial, as the costs incurred due to theft eventually impact customers as well. The Protection of Worker’s bill in Scotland, enacted following a surge in violence against retail staff during the pandemic, could serve as a model for such legislation.
Dame White highlighted that having local law enforcement take these offenses seriously and being present on-site can make a substantial difference. To encourage police presence in their stores, Waitrose is providing on-duty officers with free hot drinks and discounted food, hoping to deter potential thieves merely by the presence of a police car parked outside.
The British Independent Retailers Association reported a notable rise in organized retail crime, resembling tactics akin to county line drug operations. Major supermarkets are adopting measures such as security tags on products and displaying empty packaging to address theft issues. Incidents of violence and abuse against retail staff have also increased, prompting chains like John Lewis, Waitrose, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, and Boots to equip staff with bodycams and offer training to deter aggressive thieves.
This year, the police recorded 339,206 shoplifting cases, but the BRC estimates the true figure to be around eight million, resulting in nearly £1 billion in losses for retailers over the year. The rise in organized crime in the retail sector has posed a significant challenge to smaller businesses, affecting their profits and prompting concerns similar to those seen in county line drug activities.