Close this search box.

Retailers face rising levels of crime both in-store and online, study finds

The cost of in-store theft is higher than of online fraud. Image: Adobe Stock

Retailers are dealing with rising levels of threats both in-store and online, with a majority naming violence and customer theft as the top challenge to their business, followed by cyber attacks and fraud, new BRC figures suggest. 

In-store, retail staff experienced more than 850 violent or abusive incidents a day last year, the BRC Crime Survey found, ranging from racial and sexual abuse to physical assaults and threats with weapons rose. The number has risen to more than 450 a day in pre-pandemic 2019/20.

Retailers lost £30m to online fraud over the same period, although that figure was overshadowed by the £953m lost to customer theft over the same period, the survey suggests. 

Just over half (52%) of respondents to the survey said that violence was their biggest threat, while 96% named it one of their top three threats. Customer theft was the leading threat for 20% of respondents while 77% put it in their top three threats, followed by cyber attacks, the biggest threat for 15% but a top three threat for 38%. Just under half (46%) put fraud in their top three threats, while it was the leading threat for 11%.

Forty per cent of retailers said they had experienced an increase in cyber-attacks over the last financial year, while 50% said attacks remained at the same level, the figures suggest. However, for the first time since 2016, 10% reported a fall in cyber threats.

The total lost to crime reached £1.04bn (+32%) in 2021/22, including £953m to customer theft, with 8m incidents a day. Retailers also spent £721.8mn (+1%) on crime prevention during the year, of which £151m (+122%) was on cyber security, a fast rise that marks a return to pre-pandemic spending levels. Most retailers said phishing (96%) was a high or medium risk to their businesses, while more than 90% said the same for both ransomware and malware.

But spending on all other crime prevention measures fell by 12% to £570.8mn. 

Police response

 Only 7% of incidents of violence or abuse were prosecuted, the study suggests. But a majority of respondents rated the police response as positive for the first time in six years, with 56% describing police actions as fair. But weighted by number of employees, 55% rate the response negatively. “For many,” says the BRC Crime Survey, “a negative assessment was accompanied by a view that there was no point in reporting violence and abuse [64%) due to a lack of response from the police. Interestingly, this compared with many who rated the response as fair but nevertheless blamed low reporting on difficulties with the reporting system [18%].”

“The pandemic has normalised appalling levels of violent and abusive behaviour against retail workers,” says Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium. “While a confrontation may be over in minutes, for many victims, their families and colleagues, the physical and emotional impact can last a lifetime. 

“To make the UK a safer place to work the Home Office must improve its reporting around the amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, and the police must prioritise adequately resourcing retail crime. Surely everyone deserves the right to go to work without fear.”

Paddy Lillis, general secretary of Usdaw, says: “It is deeply disturbing that the level of incidents faced by retail workers is now higher than before the pandemic. Violence and abuse is not an acceptable part of the job and too many shopworkers suffer all too often. Our joint campaigning with the BRC secured new protection of workers legislation, but to ensure that this is properly enforced, there must be adequate police resources and retail crime must be taken seriously.”

Chris Brook-Carter, chief executive of Retail Trust, says: “Being physically or verbally attacked should never be part of anyone’s job but the findings of the BRC Annual Crime Survey sadly echo what we’re hearing at the Retail Trust, with thousands of people telling us they are being shouted at, spat on, threatened and hit at work. They are extremely anxious, being forced to take time off or even quitting their jobs as a result.

“Our message at the Retail Trust is clear. This is simply not acceptable and if you are a retail colleague suffering from any kind of abuse, threats or violence, please report this to your manager and call the Retail Trust’s wellbeing helpline (0808 801 0808) if you need any help dealing with your experiences.”

Read More

Register for Newsletter

Group 4 Copy 3Created with Sketch.

Receive 3 newsletters per week

Group 3Created with Sketch.

Gain access to all Top500 research

Group 4Created with Sketch.

Personalise your experience on