Safetell – Securing Businesses in Uncertain Times

Retail crime is on the rise. We look at what is fuelling this increase, and the investments being made to protect against it.


A perfect storm of factors has combined in recent years to leave retailers more vulnerable than ever. The lasting impacts of the pandemic and rising levels of poverty and addiction are being exacerbated by the cost of living crisis, leaving millions of people across the UK feeling the pinch.


In August, more than 100 retailers came together to call on police to take action on retail crime and combat rising levels of abuse, violence, and antisocial behaviour suffered by retail staff. The letter from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) expressed concern about the sharp spike in crime and the effect on its workforce. It also noted the upward pressure retail crime is having on prices.


Retail crime has been trending upward for some time; shoplifting incidents increased by 18%, according to the ONS, in part fuelled by rocketing inflation that has seen the price of essentials such as bread, pasta, baby formula, milk, and razors increase significantly. With the highest inflation in a generation showing little sign of stagnating, the trend is expected to continue.


That uplift in crime is expected to drive spending on physical security solutions such as security screens, safety doors, and shields. Retail makes up a substantial part of the UK’s physical security market, which the UK government valued in 2019 at $5.7 billion.


Worldwide, the numbers get even bigger, with a recent MarketsandMarkets report predicting the global physical security market is expected to grow from $102.7 billion in 2021 to $140 billion by 2026, driven by the impact of COVID-19. A separate report from Grand View Research says the global physical security market will top $200 billion by 2030 as businesses look to secure their assets and cybersecurity investments.


Convenience stores at risk

Crime is being felt across all levels of retail, but some are feeling the pain more than others. Convenience stores can often suffer disproportionate levels of crime as they don’t have the levels of security of the larger stores, often run skeleton staff, and have predictable periods where footfall is low. And, unlike larger retailers, many convenience store owners cannot afford to attach security tags to commonly stolen items.


Reacting to the ONS results in July, James Lowman, Chief Executive of the Association of Community Shops (ACS), said: “Shop theft continues to be a massive issue for convenience retailers, and is mostly driven by organised groups stealing to sell elsewhere and those who are suffering from a drug or alcohol addiction. Retailers have told us that they do not see any evidence of the cost of the living crisis driving ordinary people to steal from stores, it is still the same groups looking to cash in at the expense of hard-working business owners.”


“For both groups, higher value goods are being targeted, they’re more likely to try to snatch cash from tills, are becoming more brazen in taking cases of products off shelves and walking out, or even grabbing high-value goods from gantries or behind the counter. This combination of desperation and brazen confidence they feel makes it more likely that incidents will escalate into violence if they’re challenged by a shop colleague.”


This has unfortunately proven to be the case, according to ACS figures, which reveal more than 35,000 incidents of violence in the UK convenience sector were carried out over the last 12 months. More than 16,700 of those incidents involved a weapon, with 9% of all incidents resulting in injury.


Staff at risk

The rising number of incidents against retail staff is one of the least welcome trends of recent years and, again, those working at convenience stores find themselves at real risk. Violent attacks against convenience store workers and other retail staff have increased more than six-fold in the last five years, equal to 100 violent attacks every single day in the UK. Some 89% of those working alone – as is often the case in convenience stores – reported receiving abuse.


This level of crime is having a profoundly negative impact on staff. A BRC study found that 100% of respondents report an increase in verbal abuse during the COVID-19 lockdown. In addition, 63% of workers dealing with customers said they often felt unsafe due to dealing with aggressive shoppers, with half of the respondents having to take time off after experiencing an abusive incident.


Small retail owners are also reporting millions of pounds in physical damage that is being caused by crime. Building exteriors, equipment, and stock are all routinely damaged, and owners often have to close shop while repairs are being carried out, leading to a loss of vital revenues.


Boosting shop security

Practically all stores have some level of security provision. CCTV is commonly used, but is often impractical for several reasons, including poor picture quality, unsuitable filming angles, and the penitential for cloud-based security systems to be hacked.


That’s not to say CCTV isn’t useful; it certainly is and should be utilised as a part of an effective security ecosystem. Training staff to use security equipment and to avoid confrontation is also of paramount importance. But increasingly, convenience store owners should be thinking about how they can be more proactive, making their stores as unattractive as possible to criminals, and increasingly making them safe spaces for employees.


According to the ACS Crime Report 2022, £10 million was invested in screens alone over the last 12 months by convenience stores, amongst the £246 million invested in crime prevention across the convenience sector over the course of the year. The overall figure equates to an average convenience store spend of £5,239 on crime prevention. Cash handling and storage, and perspex screen were amongst the top features that stores invested in over the 12 months.


Safetell provides a range of security services that can deter crime and boost staff well-being in convenience stores. Our products include physical security items like security doors, screens and counters, and walling and partitioning products. These solutions not only protect staff from violence but physically divide high-value stock from would-be criminals, as well as making it far more challenging to steal cash.


With more than 30 years of experience in the security space, our experts understand the best products for retail environments and are trusted by retail operators and owners, and what types of security solutions are best suited for the convenience sector.