The shoplifting scourge isn’t slowing. That much was proved by the ACS Crime Report 2024, published yesterday, showing theft from convenience stores soared by 409% in the past year, reaching a worrying 5.6 million incidents.

It is devastating and hard to understand how quickly the problem is escalating, especially considering retailers have invested £339m in crime prevention measures. Alongside the cost of crime, the ‘crime tax’ has risen from 6p last year to 10p on every UK convenience store transaction, said the ACS. It’s an additional, unofficial, tax retailers can’t afford.

Retailers are, however, holding up their end of the bargain. According to the report, more incidents of retail crime are being reported to the police, up from 16% to 42%, which would in part explain some of the percentage hike.

But 42% is not enough. More data is needed to help the police catch offenders. Understandably, a lack of faith in police response and follow-up investigations is often why all cases aren’t reported. But it’s that lack of reporting that’s emboldening these criminals further.

Reporting is as critical than ever, as more organised crime groups are setting their sights on convenience stores. It is now the second-highest motivation for repeat offending, with stealing to fund a drug and alcohol addiction holding at number one. According to the report, 76% of retailers believe organised crime has become more prevalent over the past year.

Increasing gang crime a retailer risk

It’s a scary picture, and poses a great risk to retailers when you consider their distraction and co-ordination tactics. And there is the value element, given they steal in bulk and usually multiples of high-value goods.

And the criminals are as brazen as ever, as ACS communications director Chris Noice says: “The gangs don’t discriminate. They will go everywhere and anywhere to hit multiple stores in a small area, in a short amount of time.”

Thankfully, Project Pegasus is in motion, an initiative part of the government’s Retail Crime Action Plan. It aims to radically improve the way retailers share intelligence with policing, to better understand the tactics used by organised retail crime gangs and identify more offenders.

Backed by the Home Office, and major retailers including John Lewis, the Co-op and M&S, a specialist new police team is being created to build a comprehensive intelligence picture of the organised crime gangs that fuel many shoplifting incidents across the country, to help target and dismantle them.

Of course, a scheme like this heavily relies on the intel retailers provide. But with the huge chasm between recorded figures and the actual rate of recorded crime at convenience stores, reporting needs to be made easier – let alone be properly responded to.

One example is recording CCTV footage, which is a crucial cog in moving the Pegasus wheel. Clearly, retailers recognise that importance – hence their £339m security bill.

The ACS Crime Report 2024

But despite what footage is obtained – it might not always be actionable. While that can sometimes be down to the quality of footage, it’s the fact police forces have varying format requirements, making it harder for retailers to provide sufficient evidence.

There’s a simple solution, and one that thankfully ACS is campaigning for in its Stop Shop Theft initiative. Forces need to tell retailers how they should be reporting incidents or, at least, accommodate all CCTV formats, while informing them who their single point of contact for business crime is.

And with the majority of retailers reporting incidents online, according to the ACS Crime Report, the trade body also suggests investing in a consistent online platform, which would help to increase reporting levels and evidence shared with the police.

These are all barriers between retailers getting the justice they deserve, which is a tough pill to swallow when a project like Pegasus has been specifically created to tackle organised crime.

If this is truly the “first of its kind” operation, with retailers and police working together to crackdown on shoplifting, police and government need to make it easier for all retailers to share evidence with the authorities and report incidents. Then we might finally break the cycle of chronic under-reporting.