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Retail Workers Suffering Increased Levels of Violence and Abuse


The latest British Retail Consortium Crime Survey (2024) highlights a 50% increase in levels of violence and abuse toward retail workers. In our latest blog post we look at this worrying trend.

The latest British Retail Consortium crime survey has revealed how incidents of violence and abuse toward shop workers has skyrocketed. The number of reported incidents has increased to 1300 per day in 2022/23 from around 870 per day in the previous year.

Retailers are reported to have heavily invested in crime prevention measures, spending around £1.2 billion on CCTV, security personnel, body worn cameras for staff and additional precautions. This is a massive increase from around £722 million spent in the previous year, but sadly it has not been enough to provide retail staff with the protection they need.

And the cost of retail theft, on top of the increased security costs, has also escalated enormously. Losses due to customer theft are estimated to have increased to £1.8 billion from £950 million in the previous year.

High Levels of Violence and Abuse

Most retailers (87%) now recognise violence and abuse toward their staff as one of their top 3 concerns for the forthcoming two years with 68% ranking this issue as their highest priority. The massive increase in incidents of violence and abuse to almost half a million (475,000) in just one year is causing a great deal of alarm.

The vast majority of these incidents were for abuse which often has a very serious impact on the victims. They include racial abuse, sexual abuse, threats of violence and aggression. Retail staff can find themselves in very challenging altercations, enduring intimidation and fear from people who can be under the influence of alcohol or drugs and might be carrying weapons. These horrendous experiences have a huge impact on their mental health.

Shoplifters are reported to have become emboldened and more violent or inclined to threaten shop workers with violence. The cost of living crisis is reported to have changed the nature of shoplifting from stealing just one or two items to stealing many.

Common triggers for assaults and verbal attacks include requesting ID for age verification and stopping someone who is suspected of stealing goods. It is notable that retail workers who fail to carry out age verification checks are guilty of a criminal offence while those carrying out under-age purchases face no criminal consequences.

Monetary Cost of Retail Crime

The cost of retail crime not only impacts retailers, it also impacts consumers and shop staff. Retailers operate on very low margins so any increased costs, due to essential investment in crime prevention measures or stolen inventory, reduces their ability to offer cost savings to customers and restricts improvements to terms and conditions for staff.

Customer theft has soared to a value of almost £2 billion. This is a vast amount that could otherwise have been used to benefit both customers and staff. Its also important to be aware that these figures don’t represent the complete picture. Police forces believe that official customer theft statistics, based upon reported incidents, may represent as little as 10% of retail crime. This suggests that customer theft could be costing as much as £20 billion a year.

In the year from 2016 to 2017 customer theft is reported to have accounted for £502.8 million in losses due to 2,916,700 incidents. In the year from 2022 to 2023 the losses due to customer theft escalated to £1.794 billion and the number of incidents increased to 16,741,100. This is clearly a very worrying trend.

Cyber Security and Crime

Cyber security and cyber crime are major, emerging concerns for retailers. Cyber related risks exist both in regard to personal data, stored on retailer’s computer networks, as well as the security of business systems and data that many of today’s retail enterprises rely on.

Online retail has grown very rapidly, accelerated by the Covid pandemic that prompted some retailers to close their physical stores and focus entirely on online sales. Retailers have ranked phishing attacks, ransomware and denial of service attacks as their most significant and worrying cyber security risks. But others include the proliferation of malware, social engineering and the theft of both personal and business data. Over 50% of survey respondents reported that the number of cyber security attacks and breaches experienced by their businesses had notably increased in 2023 and they anticipate more to come. 

Poor Police Response

Sadly and worryingly only 8% of incidents of violence and abuse toward retail staff, reported to the police, have resulted in prosecutions. It is suggested that this startling statistic is due, in part, to reduced police resources and the perception that low value theft is of lower importance to police forces. Some retailers believe they are effectively on their own and they are being left to deal with issues without support from regional police forces.

The latest BRC survey shows how more than 50% of respondents believe nothing will come from reporting incidents to the police and this is adversely affecting their inclination to report crimes when they occur. This is why police forces believe that the estimate of £2 billion being lost to customer theft represents only around 10% of what is really being stolen.

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Employee Welfare - The Primary Concern

In response to the question: Which do you consider will be the 3 most significant threats to your business over the next 2 years? - almost 70% of retailers ranked ‘violence against staff’ as their primary concern. Theft by customers was the second most significant threat followed by fraud. But cyber attacks, terrorism, burglary, robbery, theft of customer data and criminal damage were all cited as significant concerns for many retailers.

Low prosecution rates and the massive escalation in the number of daily incidents of violence and abuse toward shop staff are clearly a major concern. Retailers are calling for:

  • A standalone offence for a crime of violence or abuse against a shopworker.
  • More prosecutions of crimes of violence and abuse against shopworkers, with a
    rise in prosecutions and ensuring offences are treated as aggravated.
  • A better understanding that abuse can be frightening and upsetting and should
    not be dismissed as part of the job.
  • Sentencing Council Guidelines making it clear that violence and abuse against
    shopworkers must be treated as aggravated offences.
  • Better recording of retail crimes of violence in the statistics

The current system clearly isn’t working with only 8% of reported incidents resulting in prosecution. This is why the BRC and others are calling for a specific stand alone offence for violence and abuse toward shop workers. During the Covid pandemic retail staff were recognised for the important roles they fulfil in enabling us all to live our lives so its important this recognition includes legal protection.

The fact that many incidents of abuse and violence are linked to age verification checks, which many retailers are legally required to carry out, also needs to be addressed. It has been proposed to the government that digital age verification methods should be permitted.

In regard to poor police response to retail crime the BRC has called for:

  • More resources to fight retail crime
  • Clarity in the statistics where crime is retail related
  • Police to respond to all incidents and especially where a perpetrator is being
    held or violence is involved to do so rapidly
  • A much improved prosecution rate
  • Police to implement the Retail Crime Action Plan as a matter of priority

The BRC highlights the importance of crime reporting and the compilation of full and accurate records of crime incidents. They point out that the level of satisfaction with police response will not improve if retail crime continues to be seen to pay by criminals who are becoming increasingly inclined to use abuse, intimidation and violence. They highlight how a lack of effective police response is one of the main reasons retail crime reporting is so low.

A key message to all retailers is the need to report all incidents of violence, abuse and theft to the police. While police response may be poor and police force resources might be overloaded it is vitally important to report and record every incident.

If you have any questions about shop security, or if you have any special requirements, 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 7th March 2024

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