The annual bill for UK retail crime soared to £613m last year – the highest level since records began – driven by sophisticated criminal gangs stealing luxury goods such as designer clothing and hi-tech gadgets to order.
That was a 2% increase on the cost to industry in 2014, according to the annual retail crime survey published on Monday by the British Retail Consortium, while the average value of goods stolen leaped by over a third to £325 per incident - also a record.
Not only is the direct cost of crime now at its highest level on record, but it is more than three times higher than in 2007-08, the BRC said.
The total number of offences has dropped for the second year running, retailers reported, to 750,144 incidents. But the high value of items stolen compared with the drop in incidents shows that crime against retailers is increasingly being carried out by more organised criminals. Customer theft still accounts for the majority of incidents of retail crime, at 83% of the total.
Survey respondents – which account for 51% of the retail sector by turnover – pointed to the rise in the use of specialist equipment such as de-taggers and foil-lined bags to avoid detection, with 40% of crimes attributed to gangs, often working in groups.
Fraud, including the burgeoning waves of online cyber-attacks, is also on the rise – up by 55% and, significantly, now accounting for more than a third of the cost of crime against retailers (36%).
The human cost of retail crime has also grown. Data collected revealed a 28% increase in offences involving abuse or violence against shop staff, rising to 41 out of every 1,000 crimes committed, compared to 32 out of 1,000 reported last year.
“These figures demonstrate the growing cost of crime against retailers – both human and financial,” said BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson. “At a time when retailers have been cutting the cost of food and clothing to reduce the average price of our weekly shopping baskets, a small number of criminals are using ever more sophisticated techniques to seize luxury items and to target retail employees with abuse and violence in their place of work. Tightening police budgets inevitably presents difficult choices about policing resources and priorities. This makes the case for police and businesses to tackle retail crime together even stronger.”