British businesses are seeking government help as shops suffer an unprecedented number of thefts and violence by criminal gangs, addicts and people struggling with a cost-of-living crisis.
“We see shoplifting everyday here, sometimes multiple times a day,” laments Pravin Kharel, the 28-year-old manager of a Sainsbury’s food store in London.
The British Retail Consortium says shoplifting is up 27 percent this year in ten of the country’s largest cities, a phenomenon affecting also the US and France, which suffered a 15-percent rise in 2022.
The situation in Britain has caused the BRC to demand that police and local mayors do more to protect retail workers.
Following this, 88 bosses of UK retailers, including the heads of supermarket giant Tesco, Boots pharmacy chain and stationery business WHSmith, jointly wrote to the government, demanding measures to tackle the fallout.
“We are writing to ask you to take action to support our colleagues who continue to face unacceptable levels of violence and abuse, amid a rise in theft, much of it organised crime, and anti-social behaviour which in many cases are the root cause of violent incidents,” read the letter addressed to home secretary, Suella Braverman.
Kharel estimates that losses to his store total about £250 per week.
The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) says supermarket thefts hit a record-high last year in the UK at 1.1 million incidents.
The most stolen items were meat, alcohol and confectionery, added the ACS, which represents more than 33,500 shops.
Its latest crime report stated that 79 per cent of represented retailers believed the cost-of-living crisis had caused an increase in theft.
At 6.7 per cent, annual inflation in Britain remains the highest in the G7, after energy and food prices surged.
Shoppers have become accustomed to anti-theft stickers slapped on items such as meat, which thieves pass on for relatively high sums.
The Co-op chain of convenience stores suffered record levels of crime in the first half of 2023, at 1,000 incidents of shoplifting and anti-social behaviour per day.
This has prompted it to warn that some local communities could end up without a convenience store in the future.
Some pharmacies have removed makeup from shelves to prevent frequent thefts.
At a Boots store, an AFP journalist witnessed a man filling a bag with lipsticks and nail polish before rushing out without paying.
In August, hundreds of people gathered in front of a JD Sports store on London’s Oxford Street after widely shared posts on Snapchat and TikTok urged followers to take part in a giant co-ordinated act of shoplifting.
Several shops barricaded doors as members of the public clashed with police, leading to nine arrests.
Most big retailers will have security guards only at some of their stores.
At a branch of Boots in London, a manager named Tracy notes that “the police are pretty good” at helping staff deal with thefts, but said sometimes “when you need them… they’ve just driven off.”