The latest police data has revealed that UK retailers were plagued by 359,156 incidents of shoplifting in 2019, just shy of 1,000 per day.
Analysis of the data by Checkpoint Systems, which supplies loss prevention solutions to the retail industry, highlighted that over half (52%) of reported incidents go unpunished. No suspect is identified in two out of five crimes, while police forces are unable to prosecute suspects 12% of the time.
Shoplifting a nationwide problem
Overall shoplifting slowed slightly in 2019 – down approximately 3% year-on-year – but continues to affect stores up and down the country, with 17 of 45 police forces recording increases in the number of incidents in 2019.
Over the course of the year, Sussex was worst hit, with police handling 1,079 more incidents – an increase of 14% on 2018. Stores in Kent (+8%), Wiltshire (+7%), Hertfordshire (+6%) and Northamptonshire (+5%) were also targeted more frequently by thieves over the last year.
The Metropolitan Police Service continued to respond to the most incidents of shoplifting compared to other police forces around the country – 43,146 – but the number has fallen for the second consecutive year, from 47,460 in 2017. Meanwhile, Leicestershire saw the biggest drop, with 21% fewer reported thefts.
Is enough being done to deter thieves
Worryingly for retailers, in the period January – May 2019, just 5% of shoplifting incidents resulted in the suspect being ordered to pay compensation, given a caution, penalty notice, fine, suspended sentence or prison sentence.
Difficulty in identifying a suspect is one of the main barriers to prosecution. Of the 4,619 and 13,568 shoplifting incidents investigated by Cambridgeshire Constabulary and Northumbria Police respectively, 64% were closed with no suspect identified. The situation is similar in Bedfordshire (62%), Surrey (61%) and the West Midlands (59%).
Retailers use a variety of tactics to identify shoplifters, including CCTV, EAS tags and antennas. Attentive staff are one of the best deterrents, however, in a recent survey of 2,005 UK shoppers, Checkpoint found that 59% had witnessed a security alarm going off with no action from store staff on more than one occasion. Stores in the North East have the least responsive staff, with 66% of customers witnessing one or more alarms with no response from staff.
Mike French, Business Unit Director, Checkpoint Systems UK, commented:
“The retail industry is facing a number of serious challenges and it’s important stores of all shapes and sizes are protecting their merchandise from opportunistic thieves in order to maximise their sales. Regrettably, a 3% decrease only masks the problem that there are likely to be many more incidents that are not reported, particularly by smaller retailers who have lost faith with the justice system.
“Identifying a suspect is one of the biggest obstacles to prosecuting a shoplifter. Our solutions are designed to help deter dishonest shoppers from attempting to steal, with our unique black lock security label putting off nine in 10 potential thieves. Complementing our range of hardware, one of the benefits of our innovative Halo software solution is that it ensures staff are responding to alarms and system issues, to apprehend shoplifters and minimise losses.”