An annual survey of retail crime has shown on average 115 retail employees were attacked at work every day last year.

The latest British Retail Consortium (BRC) Retail Crime Survey covers the period 1 April 2017 to 31 March 2018. The retailers surveyed collectively control 11,000 stores and £103 billion of turnover – equivalent to just under one third of the retail market. The survey recorded more than 42,000 violent incidents involving retail workers – violence the BRC describe as one of the most pressing issues facing retail organisations.

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The survey found that knives “are seen as the most significant type of weapon” used in attacks. It noted a trend towards “more violent and frightening” incidents, with an increasing willingness to use weapons to intimidate even for relatively small amounts.

Key findings are:

  • Every day including weekends 115 retail employees are attacked, with many more threatened.
  • Use of knives is of “significant concern”.
  • The combined cost of spending on crime prevention and losses from crime to the industry was £1.9 billion.
  • More than £700 million was lost to customer theft alone.
  • Some 80% of responding retailers describe the police response to retail crime as “poor” or “very poor”.
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Combined cost of spending on crime prevention and losses from crime to the industry

Human Cost

The BRC said the findings “laid bare the human cost” of retail crime and that for its members, violence remains by far the most significant type of crime. The survey found three key triggers for violence and abuse against retail employees:

  • Intentional use of violence to assist with theft;
  • As a response to age-related sales, including when required by law; and
  • By criminals intoxicated by drugs and alcohol.

Racially aggravated attacks also rose.

More severe incidents

BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said “Violence against employees remains one of the most pressing issues retailers face, yet once again we have seen an increase in the overall number of incidents. The scale of the problem is huge – every day 115 employees are attacked in their place of work. Our members are clear that the incidents are becoming more severe with weapons, particularly knives posing a more significant threat than before”.

Ms Dickinson comments “Such crimes harm not just hard-working employees but also their families and communities. No-one should go to work fearing threats and abuse”.

She concludes “We hope this report will act as a catalyst for Police and Crime Commissioners around the country to take action. Furthermore, Parliament must play its part in stemming this tide of crime by creating a specific criminal offence to protect retail employees from assault at work as has been done for emergency workers”.

Growing concern

Similarly, a survey by the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (Usdaw) reports a 40 per cent increase in incidents of violence against shop workers since 2016, with threats and abuse also significantly up. The survey troublingly revealed one in six retail staff who have been assaulted do not report it – mainly as they do not think it will make a difference.

Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said “Life on the frontline of retail can be pretty tough for many shopworkers and there is still a lot to do to help protect them. We launched our Freedom From Fear Campaign in the face of growing concerns amongst retail staff about violence, threats and abuse”.

Mr Lillis added “It is time for the government to act by providing stiffer penalties for those who assault workers – a simple standalone offence that is widely recognised and understood by the public, police, Crown Prosecution Service, the judiciary and most importantly criminals”.

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