Crime has always been an issue that businesses face, but the difficulties it creates are evolving.
The annual BRC Retail Crime Survey highlights some notable trends. The total direct cost of crime is at record levels: at least £700m per year, much through ‘customer theft’. These losses have significant implications for the industry and the employment it brings to every community in the UK.
We see the safety of retail colleagues as an absolute priority, and our members are stepping up to the challenge in ever more committed ways. Our most recent data showed that, on average, our members spent more on crime prevention in 12 weeks than they did in the whole of the previous year. Much of that new spending is being channelled towards protecting colleagues, not guarding stock.
There are areas of crime where we have seen improvement. The annual cost of fraud to retailers, for example, fell by nearly £30m. We need to learn from this. So how was it achieved, and can the strategies be used to tackle other crimes?
A key factor appears to be the greater use of technology to deter, protect and prosecute. The lessons are already being used to stop abusive behaviour before it happens.
Considerable ingenuity is being applied to ‘tagging’ specific goods, minimising the chances of theft escalating into violence.
Over the last few decades, we’ve all become comfortable with fixed CCTV systems, and most of us would now be more concerned to shop in a store which doesn’t have them than one that does.
Many retailers are now also making use of latest generation fixed and high-tech CCTV systems. Often managed from central hubs, these systems identify incidents and allow communication between the store and hub, including using the PA system remotely.
A logical extension of such systems is the use of bodyworn cameras. These small, unobtrusive devices are an increasingly familiar part of daily life, across a range of industries, as well as on car dashboards and attached to cycle helmets.
Whilst they support prosecutions, their main function is to discourage attacks in the first place. Originally adopted by the police, in many other areas of life they are now a very valuable way to stop conflict before it happens. Retailers are thinking carefully about how best to deploy these devices as part of a blended approach. Protecting privacy will, obviously, be at the very front of any considerations, and the public can take great comfort from the strict legal framework that governs them.
These are just a few examples of how technology is helping to spot and deter criminal activity. The solutions are not, however, purely technical: better training can help. And this is a second area where retailers are taking strides, rolling out conflict management courses that help take the risk out of potential flashpoints.
We continue to press for greater protection for retail colleagues in legislation. At present, the punishments simply don’t fit the crimes. In the meantime, though, our members are being innovative over how they use existing laws to keep known troublemakers out of stores. And we are working with police to focus our joint efforts, matching the response to the real priorities for retailers.
Beyond that, we recognise that crime is not an industry issue but a social one. Our members are playing an even stronger role fixing the deeper social causes, and not just managing the symptoms, of the problems we as a society face. This is perhaps the most exciting area we work in, with retailers’ mindsets moving from serving to supporting the communities in which they operate.
Taken together, these areas show how retail is coming together to bear down on crime. By fostering new partnerships with law enforcement, service providers and NGOs, and by using the latest technology sensitively and unobtrusively, retail is more than doing its bit to stop antisocial behaviour outside and inside its doors.