Protecting against retail crime during a “crisis”

  • Retail crime in the UK hits concerning peak
  • Cost of crime almost doubles to £3.3 billion
  • Retailers investing £1.2 billion on security prevention
  • British Retail Consortium calls for swift and meaningful action


The UK is in the midst of a retail crime crisis that “demands action”, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) has said. 


Violence and abuse against retail workers reached an alarming high last year. The British Retail Consortium’s crime survey paints a grim picture, revealing a significant increase to 1,300 violent or abusive incidents per day in 2022/23, up from nearly 870 the previous year.


The BRC’s statistics are widely considered to be the largest and most reliable barometer of retail crime in the UK, as they are based on a sample from retailers presenting more than 1.1 million employees and businesses with almost £200 billion in turnover. 


The cost of living crisis and addiction have been repeatedly blamed for the surge in retail crime, but retailers also report that organised gangs are playing a prominent role. Retailers said a lack of police action, failure to prosecute criminals, and limited reporting are fuelling the increase in crime. 


Retailers counting the cost

Incidents of customer theft more than doubled during the reporting period, from eight million to 16.7 million. In monetary terms, that theft costs retailers £1.8 billion – the highest figures ever recorded, up from £950 million. 


At a time when multiple retail closures are impacting the UK’s high streets, it is money they can ill afford to lose. 


Violence and abuse against shopworkers have been a significant concern for the BRC for some time. But its most recent report shows the issue is getting worse. 


There has been an enormous increase in abusive behaviour towards staff, which now stands at 434,000 incidents in 2022-23 or 1,190 a day, up from 340 a day pre-pandemic. There were 113 violent incidents a day (41,000 in total), slightly down on the previous year’s 145 incidents a day and much the same as in the last pre-pandemic year. Of note was that 8,800 of these incidents resulted in injury.


Retailers are investing heavily to protect their staff and their stock. Figures show that crime prevention spending totalled £1.2 billion over the 12 months, up from £720 million, with retailers installing measures such as security doors, perspex screens to protect staff, and high-quality CCTV systems. 


In total, the cost of retail crime and spending on crime prevention has risen to £3.3 billion, up from £1.8 billion. 


Unfortunately, there is little optimism that these issues will soon improve. The BRC said employee welfare remains the number one concern for retailers – above any monetary considerations – when looking at the anticipated threats over the next two years.


With nearly 90% of retailers placing it in the top three, it is causing considerable concern across the industry and has been consistently high in previous surveys. Theft also ranks highly as a major concern for three-quarters of retailers. 


The BRC has previously called on the government to offer tax relief on crime prevention investments, or to introduce funding for retailers, and said these statistics clearly show the need for meaningful law enforcement.  


A scheme is in place in South-West England for independent retailers to access up to £2,000 to cover the cost of security upgrades, but the industry body would like to see a nationwide initiative rolled out. 


The BRC’s CEO, Helen Dickinson, said criminals are being given a “free pass” to steal goods and to abuse and assault retail colleagues. 

“No one should have to go to work fearing for their safety,” she said. “The Protection of Workers Act in Scotland already provides additional protection to retail workers, so why should our hardworking colleagues south of the border be offered less protection? It is vital that government takes action – introducing a new standalone offence for assaulting or abusing a retail worker.”


Protecting retail workers

In September last year, the UK’s biggest retailer, Tesco, announced a new initiative to protect its shop workers by installing new protective screens at hundreds of its Express stores and petrol station kiosks. 


A release from Tesco said: “The toughened glass screens, which fully enclose the colleague side of the till and stand above head height, have already been installed at more than 110 Tesco sites and are now being rolled out to more than 250 additional stores as part of a multi-million-pound investment in colleague safety.”


Screens are a great way to give staff an extra layer of protection and physically separate them from criminals intent on abusing or assaulting workers. Safetell offers a range of security screens, fixed glazing, and security counters designed to protect retail staff from criminals, which can also be installed in various commercial environments. 


Benefits and features include:

  • Physical protection: Security screens, counters, and glazing provide a physical barrier between staff and potential threats, such as aggressive customers or criminals attempting theft or assault.
  • Deterrent to criminals: The visible presence of security measures can deter criminals, reducing the likelihood of attempted crime.
  • Enhanced safety: By creating a secure environment for staff, these installations contribute to a safer workplace, reducing the risk of injury or harm to employees.
  • Customisable solutions: Security screens, counters, and glazing can be tailored to fit specific retail environments, ensuring they integrate seamlessly with the store layout and design while providing optimal protection.
  • Improved customer confidence: Knowing that measures are in place to protect staff and assets can enhance customer confidence, increasing foot traffic and sales.
  • Compliance: Investing in security measures helps retailers comply with safety regulations and demonstrate a commitment to employee welfare, potentially reducing liability in case of incidents.


Our range includes Safetell’s SafeShield UL Security Glazing, a cost-effective solution that keeps staff and counter areas safe from physical attacks and attempts to snatch valuable items behind the counter. It’s designed for places with secure transactions, like express retail spots or petrol forecourts.


Safetell’s SafeShield Specialist Glazing is another of our most popular retail products. It has a sturdy steel frame and anti-physical attack glazing system. This setup not only safeguards staff and counters from potential attacks and robberies but also looks good and fits the store’s design.