High Streets Initiative · 8 March 2018

Serious violent attacks on retail staff double in just one year

Retailers claimed criminals were increasingly likely to abuse staff when challenged over stealing

The number of serious violent attacks recorded against retail staff doubled in 2017, new survey findings have revealed.

According to the British Retail Consortium’s (BRC) 2017 Retail Crime Survey, violent crime in the sector resulting in injury occurred at twice the rate of the previous year. Some six in every 1,000 workers were a victim of violence last year – equivalent to 13 individuals left with injuries each day.

Knives and stabbing implements were the most significant weapons recorded, followed by syringes. Meanwhile, softer incidents of violence and abuse affected 40 workers in every 1,000 – the second highest level ever recorded.

The research also provided a wider picture of crime in the sector, with fraud, shoplifting, criminal damage and even employee theft affecting retailers. Overall, the direct financial cost of retail crime reached £700m in 2017 – a six per cent increase on the previous year.

Customer theft remained the largest contributor at a cost of £500m to the sector, a 15 per cent rise on 2016 figures. Retailers claimed that “career” criminals were increasingly likely to verbally and physically abuse staff when challenged over stealing. They also cited requirements to age-check and refuse sales as triggering violence and threats against workers.

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Commenting on the findings, Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC, said the rise in violent incidents presented a “deeply concerning picture” for the industry.

“Attacks on retail workers are intolerable, and our members are completely clear that keeping their staff safe and providing an environment in which they can work free of fear from threats and violence, is their first priority.

“Retailers are doing everything possible to ensure that staff members and customers are safe and protected. But they are now spending record amounts on crime prevention, which is a drag on the economic viability of shops and not infinitely sustainable.”

Although violent crime against retail staff saw a worrying spike, the survey offered positive development in other areas. Following greater investment in fraud prevention, the cost of fraud to retailers reduced by £27m in the last 12 months.

Dickinson added: “Retail already faces its own challenges, with margins shrinking, and against that backdrop the pressures that retail crime exerts are having a stronger impact. That is why we are working to build a new model for co-operation around tackling retail crime, and encourage decision-makers throughout the country to apply the priority these issues deserve.”

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Simon Caldwell is deputy editor at Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and communications from the University of Liverpool, and has previously worked as a content editor in local government and the ecommerce industry.

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