An “epidemic”, “out of control” and “decriminalised” are a handful of the ways retail crime is being described. These terms are increasingly becoming the norm, and here’s why…

Incidents of violence and abuse against the retail sector rose by 50% to 1,300 a day in 2023, according to the BRC. They ranged from racial abuse, sexual harassment and physical assault to threats with weapons.

The shoplifting scourge also shows no signs of slowing, with the cost of theft almost doubling to £1.8bn – amounting to 45,000 incidents a day. 

Narrowed to the convenience sector, the picture isn’t any brighter. According to ACS, cases of violence rose by 85.4% to 76,000 incidents in the past year, while shoplifting soared by 409% and reached 5.6 million incidents. 

As theft, violence and abuse continue to wreak havoc on the sector, victims reveal some of their worst experiences to The Grocer.

Sandeep Baines

Name: Sandeep Bains
Age: 35
Stores: One
Fascia: Welcome, Southern Co-op franchise 
Location: Faversham

“A man was stealing from our store and being aggressive to my staff. I stepped in and asked him what was in his pockets, but he refused [to say]. When I tried to take the stuff out of his pockets myself, he pushed me over. I managed to restrain him and asked him to leave. When he refused again, he swung a five-litre beer keg across the store and attempted to punch my colleague in the face. I had to restrain him again until the police arrived.

“It was a nightmare, and his brazen nature amazed me. But I can’t let them get away with it, otherwise it invites other shoplifters to my store – which is a family business.

“A clear message needs to be communicated that this is not acceptable and you will be punished. But police also need more resources and funding to improve the response rates.”

Nishi Patel

Name: Nishi Patel
Age: 39
Stores: Three
Fascia: Londis
Location: Kent, southeast London

“In our Thamesmead store, we have more customers on the breadline. We’ve experienced ram raids, had staff held at knifepoint, my dad’s had a gun to his head, and someone once came in wielding an axe.

“One of my staff had a hot cup of tea chucked over them recently because the customer refused to pay for it. There are fights outside that seem to spill into the store. It’s scary what some people are capable of.

“We experience theft daily at our other two stores, particularly from tradesmen. But because they’ve got the company vans parked outside, or the logo on their clothes, I can find that company, call their boss, and report them.

“As part of our security measures, we’ve installed intelligent surveillance software, Veesion, and given our staff headsets. We’re doing our bit, now government needs to put funding towards getting more police officers on the street. Offenders needs more than just a slap on the wrist.”

Alex Kapadia

Name: Alex Kapadia
Age: 43
Stores: Five
Fascia: Morrisons Daily, Wine Rack, Bargain Booze
Location: Northampton, Surrey, Bedfordshire

“About two months ago, a guy came into one of my stores threatening my staff with HIV-infected needles. He was clearing shelves of wine and warning my staff to stay back otherwise he’d attack them with the needle.

“He came in three days on the trot trying the same thing. There is no reason why my staff should have to put up with that. Because of the nature of the incident, it was treated like a robbery, so the police response was completely different and he was caught within a week.

“My store in Northampton has felt a real difference lately in police response, mainly because the local authorities now have a dedicated unit for shop theft. However, it is still a massive issue. If the shoplifting sentence was at least one year in prison for serial offenders, that would act as a far better deterrent. It would temporarily cause overcrowding in prisons, but once word gets out that there are longer sentences being given, that will bring down the offence rates.”

Chloe Taylor Green

Name: Chloe Taylor-Green
Age: 31
Stores: One
Fascia: Spar
Location: Stafford

“In October, we had a break-in through the roof at midnight. They looked to be after our cash unit, but it was under lock and key and they couldn’t access it. Instead, they went for our cigarettes and stole £20,000 worth of stock, clearing the gantry and security cupboard.

“We were also victim to a Pay Point scam. A man was buying pre-paid top-up cards, like Amazon gift vouchers, on cloned cards. But by the time our sales assistant had raised a concern, the damage was done and Barclays had frozen our bank.

“He was coming in for a period of two weeks, putting anywhere between £500 to £1,000 on them each time. It was a fault in the system, which was allowing him to override the pin pad and sign for it instead, which puts the onus on us as retailers. It was about £16,000 he stole in the end, and we couldn’t get any back.

“The biggest problem is we’ve had no help from the police, despite us reporting it. And the more people get away with it, the more it feeds their habits. We need better police presence and communication.”

Dee Sedani

Name: Dee Sedani
Age: 51
Stores: Three
Fascia: One Stop
Location: East Midlands

“A couple of years ago, we had a robbery at our Etwall store. Two guys, with balaclavas on, came in at night and dragged my store manager across the floor, then tied her up while they robbed cigarettes. That started my journey of protecting my team.

“We’ve got four types of security measures we use. High-resolution CCTV, security tags on every product, facial recognition, and Staff Safe. They’re easy and simple to install. While there’s an initial investment, it’s going to save you money in the long run. We’ve only lost £7 in stock across confectionery in the last two months. That’s due to our crime prevention measures driving down those numbers.

“You’re never going to stop crime. But you can prevent it within reason. Our policy is don’t tackle it, because I can replace the product, but I cannot replace a human being.”

Susan Connolly

Name: Susan Connolly
Age: 42
Stores: Three
Fascia: Spar
Location: Wiltshire

“In January, one of our stores was broken into during the middle of the night by three men wielding axes and bats. They were there for seven minutes and stole £10,000 worth of cigarettes.

“It’s had a twofold impact. The community came together, with customers checking we were all OK. But then it’s the effect on my staff. They were so worried they were going to come back, so I had to lock up with them for a few nights after. They were a prolific gang and hit several other stores in the run-up to Christmas. Police are on the verge of catching them.

“On the other end of the spectrum, we had two ladies steal £45 of laundry goods. I put it on social media, and within five minutes, customers were telling us who the ladies were. But when I found their social media page, I saw they were raffling off the products.

“As much as the police are saying they’re paying more attention to retail crime, that’s only if it’s a £10,000 robbery – not £45 of laundry goods.”

Matthew Hunt

Name: Matthew Hunt
Age: 44
Stores: 10
Fascia: Together With Morrisons, Spar
Location: South Wales

“There are organised theft gangs who target businesses with a specific shopping list, and youths who loiter, shoplift and harass both staff and customers. Both groups are aware of the value thresholds at which a crime will attract custodial sentencing and flagrantly take advantage of this.

“Last week, a prolific offender was identified through our facial recognition system and revealed a knife to staff who attempted to tackle them. This was reported to the police, who apparently arrested him, but he returned to the store days later and did the same thing.

“We have times when youths swear at staff and customers, blocking entrances and general antisocial behaviour. This may not result in direct loss through thefts, but can create losses through customer reluctance to come into store and also in staff retention.

“One time, I assisted my team with a group of difficult teenagers who were abusing staff and upsetting customers. Despite our panic alarms being activated, police did not arrive until one of the parents dragged the screaming and shouting ringleader from the store. This did result in an arrest, although no charges were brought.”

Atul Sodha

Name: Atul Sodha
Age: 43
Stores: One
Fascia: Londis
Location: Harefield

“A youth, who I knew from the community, came in trying to intimidate a staff member. I stepped in but he swung at me, all because my employee wouldn’t let him off when he was 50p short the day before. Police took a while to attend but the situation was diffused, so I told police we’d dealt with it and the kid apologised. Even though there was an assault on me.

“It’s made me more aware to step away from potential confrontation and also keep silent rather than engage, regardless of your feelings if you know the person. You definitely don’t know what’s going on in their life and clearly, in this case, the kid was looking for a way to vent.”

Sunita Aggarwal head shot

Name: Sunita Aggarwal
Age: 52
Stores: One
Fascia: Spar
Location: Leicester


“In the past, we found it was more chocolate, meat, or cheese that was being stolen. Now, we’re finding people are helping themselves to their lunch – like a sandwich and a packet of crisps – which can only be described as a result of the cost of living crisis.

“We’re also finding some customers are buying a full basket of products, but stealing just one or two items. This makes it so much harder for us to monitor the situation as the customer has to be constantly watched.

“We rarely experience violence, but we do get verbal abuse. I’ll always advise my staff to not approach anybody, or follow them outside the shop. We can’t risk these offenders getting violent.

“We need more police intervention and more on-the-spot fines. That way it could avoid going to court, which is expensive and time-consuming for police.”

Aman Uppal

Name: Aman Uppal
Age: 38
Stores: One
Fascia: One Stop
Location: Coventry

“The type of theft at my store has changed, and almost tripled in the past year. It used to be more opportunistic, little and often. Now gangs are coming in and targeting high-value goods in bulk.

“I know police are in a tricky situation, but us retailers feel lost and alone, and I’m getting increasingly concerned about the safety of my staff, physically and mentally. Most shoplifting incidents end up in threats or verbal abuse.

“Thankfully, I’m part of a WhatsApp group with 300 other retailers and shopworkers in Coventry. It’s been set up to target the proactive gangs who are stealing from multiple stores in the area. Pictures and evidence are shared confidentially with each other and the police.

“Earlier this year, an offender stole from three stores close to my own within a week. Because of this group, I was able to prevent him from hitting my store, saving me about £100.”


UNP Grocer 43370 Harj Dharsee Morrisons 21 (1)

Name: Harj Dhasee
Age: 43
Stores: Two
Fascia: Nisa, Morrisons Daily
Location: Cotswolds


“A few weeks ago, a gentleman was stuffing his pockets, and when I challenged him he said ‘I thought it was a corporate store’. It enraged me that he thought that reason made it acceptable to steal. There was no apology, then it quickly escalated from verbal abuse to pushing and shoving.

“Last summer, we also had a gang of three gents, filling up bags with babyfood and champagne. They fled when we challenged them, but when we saw their car outside, we noticed it was full of stuff stolen from other shops.

“I understand police resources are stretched and underfunded, but we need tougher penalties on these offenders. Shoplifters feel entitled that they can steal and get away with it.”

Sue Nithyanandan

Name: Sue Nithyanandan
Stores: One
Fascia: Costcutter
Location: Epsom

“We’ve seen a 30% increase in theft. It’s made me engage more with my staff and local retailers to gather intelligence about the type of people and products being targeted.

“I’ve ordered headsets so my staff can communicate better, employed a security guard at peak trading times, and installed local reporting system Disc, where CCTV images are downloaded and police have access to them.

“I am also trialling a tagging system for high-value goods called Chirp-protect, focusing on cheeses, meats, wines and laundry products. Thanks to these security devices, we caught and reported a prolific shoplifter, who was then fined £105 and given community service.

“Luckily, we have been spared where physical threats have been made, but under no circumstance are the staff asked to put themselves at risk.”