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Retail Staff Experiencing Appalling Levels of Violence and Abuse



The latest crime survey from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) shows how violent and abusive attacks on retail staff have almost doubled since pre-pandemic levels. In this post we look at the worrying statistics and consider what retailers can do.

The global COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the vital role played by retail workers. Throughout the pandemic the retail workforce played an essential frontline role in keeping people fed and ensuring everyone had what they needed. Retailers went to great efforts to quickly come up with new ways to keep their staff safe from the virus while ensuring customers could get the groceries and products they needed.

Being on the front line meant retail workers faced many challenges in dealing with the frustrations of their customers. Sadly, their vital work involved coping with a huge spike in violence and abuse. Staff being required to encourage and enforce mask wearing while also prompting shoppers to maintain social distancing rules are believed to have triggered this massive spike in retail crime. Figures from the British Retail Consortium show how incidents of violence and abuse towards retail staff trebled during the first year of the pandemic.

The latest 2023 BRC report covers the period from 1st April 2021 until 31st March 2022, during which all retail businesses reopened. The survey results provide the best available assessment of retail crime derived from a sample of retailers, representing over 1.3 million employees and a market turnover of £190 billion. The figures worryingly show how abuse and violence towards retail workers is now becoming the norm.

Appalling Levels of Abuse

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, from 2019 into 2020, there were around 450 recorded attacks per day on retail staff. But latest statistics show that this has massively escalated to more than 850 incidents per day including racial and sexual abuse, physical assault and threats with weapons.

When considering these startling statistics its important to remember that each and every one of these incidents involves victims experiencing the worst kind of abuse and mental trauma. Figures suggest that over 10% of the UK retail workforce has suffered some form of harassment when at work.

Violence is recognised as a top concern with 96% of retailers reporting it as a top three threat. Other top three threats include customer theft at 77% and fraud at 46%.

The BRC report points out that all retail environments are affected. These include inner city and town centre stores, retail parks and out-of-town retail spaces along with shopping centres. It is noted that the greatest escalation in retail crime has been experienced by retail parks and out-of-town retail environments with over 70% of retailers reporting higher crime levels. But all retail spaces are indicated to have experienced more crimes with 57% of inner city and town centre shops reporting increased crime levels along with 48% of shopping centres.

Cost of Retail Crime

The overall financial cost of UK retail crime in 2021-22 was around £1.76 billion. This adds to the cost burden retailers are currently managing, forcing them to increase the prices of food and other essentials which is contributing to the cost of living crisis.

Of the £1.76 billion around £1.04 billion was lost due to crimes with around £953 million lost to customer theft. And around £722 million was spent on crime prevention, which was around the same spend as previous year.

Low Confidence in the Police

The BRC report highlights how a far lower proportion of crimes have been reported to the police. Figures declined from 270,000 (57%) in the previous year to 101,000 (32%) in the year reported. This decline is mainly due to a perception amongst retailers that nothing will happen or they don’t understand the crime reporting system.

Although these statistics reflect an apparent lack of confidence in the police 56% of retailers rated the police response as ‘fair’ when asked to asses how good a job they felt the police were doing to tackle and respond to retail crime. The last time more than 50% of retailers rated the police response as good or fair was back in 2014-15.

But the BRC survey points out that although the 56% of retailers rating the police response as `fair`, which is an encouraging statistic, it doesn’t present a representative picture. The report notes that a considerable number of retailers, especially larger retailers, continue to rate the police response as `poor` or `very poor`. And when figures are weighted based upon the number of employees 55% of retailers are noted to be negatively rating the police response.

For many retailers their negative police assessment meant they felt there was no point in reporting incidents of violence and abuse due to the lack of police response. The BRC report also highlights how only 4% of reported incidents against workers resulted in prosecutions, down from 6% in the previous year.

Convenience Stores

Although the BRC report acknowledged that all shops, including small stores, large stores, in town or out of town, are susceptible to the impact of crime, it didn’t specifically refer to convenience stores. The 2022 crime report from the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) estimated there had been 35,216 incidents of violence in the sector over that year, of which 9% resulted in injury and 16,753 of these violent incidents involved the use of a weapon. There were a further 800,000 incidents of verbal abuse over the year and its particularly shocking that nine in ten shopworkers in the sector have suffered abuse from customers with many experiencing threats and violence.

The annual crime report from the ACS makes the scale of the problem faced by convenience stores and staff very clear. It points out that around half of those working in these shops are not confident that reporting the issues they face makes any difference.

The ACS has published useful guidance in how to protect people and shops in the convenience store sector. One of their primary recommendations is that all incidents of violence and abuse must be reported to the police. It highlights the ‘Suzy’s Charter for Workplace Safety’, developed by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, in which eight key areas that can help people feel safer at work are identified including embedding a workplace personal safety culture, implementing robust risk assessments and iintroducing systems to raise an alarm in the event of an incident.

Lone working is recognised as one of the vulnerabilities commonly associated with convenience stores so the ACS guidance makes some useful recommendations including the use of CCTV, the use of headsets and walkie talkies along with panic alarms and facilities to covertly raise an alert to colleagues in case of an emergency.

Retail Crime Prevention

With violence recognised by most retailers as the most significant threat to their businesses over the next two years, employee welfare is their primary concern. The BRC recognises that the key approach to these escalating threats involves gaining better recognition from the Government, police and the courts. They all need to recognise the enormous impact these violent and abusive crimes have on victims and strategically prioritise the development of policing of retails issues.

But what practical precautions can retailers put in place to keep their staff safe from violence and abuse? In a previous post we provided a list of top tips to keep your retail store safe and secure. These precautions include carrying out regular risk assessments and implementing appropriate policies and procedures, as well as providing staff training. Importantly, staff need to be aware of the potential for violence and abuse and know how to deal with challenging situations. And, as recommneded by the Association of Convenience Stores, panic alarms and personal security alarm devices can also be beneficial

The police provide some good advice regarding shoplifting prevention but their guidance fails to adequately address the potential for violence or abuse.

The National Business Crime Centre offers a valuable framework for employers aimed at preventing violence and abuse in retail environments. Their preventative recommendations include:

  • Carrying out risk assessments with reference to the HSE risk assessment guidance. They recommend that retailers consider the allocation of personal safety devices to staff.
  • Establishing clear policies to make certain staff are aware of the support that’s available to them and how they can access it.
  • Following Health and Safety Executive guidance.
  • Provide staff training in how to deal with situations that may lead to violence and abuse. This training should include de-escalation training.
  • Join a crime reduction partnership.
  • Foster a workplace safety culture.
  • Report all incidents internally and, when appropriate, to the police.
retail security mirrors
Retail Security Mirrors


Practical measures include investing in CCTV security cameras and other sensible precautions such as the installation of low cost retail security mirrors and providing staff with personal alarm devices. Importantly, its essential that retailers and shop workers record and report all incidents of abuse and violence to the police.

If you have any questions about security and which options are appropriate for your needs, remember we are here to help. Give us a call on 01273 475500 and we’ll provide you with free, expert advice.

This message was added on Thursday 9th March 2023


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