Unprecedented levels of shoplifting are plaguing UK retailers


British retailers have called for the government’s help after an unprecedented number of thefts as well as incidents of violence by criminal gangs, drug addicts and people suffering from the cost of living crisis.

“Shoplifting is a daily phenomenon and sometimes it happens more than once a day,” says Pravin Kharel (28), manager of a Sainsbury’s supermarket in London. Kharel estimates that losses to his shop amount to around £250 (about R5 823) per week.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) says shoplifting has increased by 27% this year in ten of the country’s largest cities. This is a phenomenon that also affects America and France, which experienced a 15% increase in 2022.

With the situation in England, the BRC was forced to enlist the help of the police and local mayors to protect retail employees.

A total of 88 bosses in Britain have jointly written to the government demanding measures to tackle the wave of crime in their shops. These include heads of supermarket giant Tesco, Boots, a health and beauty retailer and pharmacy, and the stationery business, WHSmith.

Most large retailers have security guards present at only some of their stores.

Meat, alcohol and sweets

The Association of Convenience Stores says supermarket theft hit a record high in the UK last year with 1.1 million incidents in 33,500 stores.

The most stolen items were meat, alcohol and sweets.

According to the association’s latest crime report, 79% of representative retailers believe that the cost of living crisis has caused an increase in theft.

Annual inflation in Britain of 6.7% remains the highest in the G7 group after energy and food prices rose.

Customers have become accustomed to anti-theft stickers affixed to items such as meat.

The Co-op chain of convenience stores experienced record levels of crime in the first half of this year, with around 1,000 incidents of shoplifting and other anti-social behavior per day.

Some pharmacies have removed makeup products from their shelves to prevent ongoing theft.

At a Boots branch, an AFP journalist observed a man putting lipsticks and nail polish into a bag before leaving the store, without paying for the items.

Hundreds of people gathered outside the JD Sports store in London in August after widely shared posts on Snapchat and TikTok encouraged followers to take part in a giant coordinated act of shoplifting.

Several shops blocked their doors and scuffles broke out between members of the public and the police, leading to nine arrests.