Retail sector at highest risk of crime as cost of living pressures continue to bite

09 May 2024

The retail sector continues to have the highest prevalence of victimisation, with 41% of business premises experiencing crime in 2023, according to Home Office data released today.

The data shows over a quarter (26%) of premises in the wholesale and retail sector experienced customer theft during the previous 12 months, with customer theft overall showing a longer-term upward trend. Separate figures from the ONS found shoplifting offences reached their highest level in 20 years in 2023, at 430,104, up 37% on the previous year (315,040), and up 20% on pre-pandemic levels (359,258).

Jacqui Baker, head of retail at RSM UK and chair of ICAEW’s Retail Group, comments: “Crime has become increasingly prevalent in the retail sector over the years and sadly the issue isn’t going away, as the ongoing cost of living pressures mean the incentives for criminals are higher than ever before.

'Arguably, the industry has always been susceptible to crime, but criminals are becoming savvier with their techniques and looking for new ways to spot weaknesses among retailers in store and online. Leveraging social media to organise retail crime or fraudulently claiming products haven’t been delivered are examples of how criminals continue to adapt and tap into consumer behaviour to become more sophisticated. However, while incidents of theft are often carried out by external parties, some are also committed by employees themselves, meaning retailers need to be extremely vigilant.

'The government’s recent crackdown on retail crime, making the assault of a retail worker a standalone crime, is a major turning point for the industry. Retailers will feel like they’ve been heard, but the hard work doesn’t stop there. The onus is now on them to ensure they are reporting any incidents, so it stays at the top of the agenda.

'The use of data will be invaluable in helping to detect fraud and theft, for example the use of facial recognition technology and the tracking of inventory levels. By harnessing the power of data effectively, this will go a long way in minimising losses and improving overall operational efficiency.'