(Bloomberg) -- Retailers ranging from Tesco Plc to Burberry Group Plc have called for immediate action from the UK government to tackle the rise in shoplifting that’s emerged during the nation’s cost-of-living crisis.
Almost 90 retail chiefs have signed a letter to Home Secretary Suella Braverman asking for the government to create a standalone offense of assaulting a retail worker, along with tougher sentences. The retailers, which also include department stores Fortnum & Mason and Harvey Nichols, are demanding that police place a higher priority on retail crime.
The British Retail Consortium said the cost of retail crime totaled £1.76 billion ($2.15 billion) in the year to April as organized gangs find an opportunity to sell on stolen goods and shoppers grow more desperate due to the burden of inflation. Security tags have become commonplace on items as everyday as baby formula and burgers.
Tesco recently started offering body cameras to its staff for better protection and Aldi is currently trialling the idea.
“We are seeing organized gangs threatening staff with weapons and emptying stores,” said Helen Dickinson, Chief Executive Officer at the BRC. “We are seeing violence against colleagues who are doing their job and asking for age-verification. We are seeing a torrent of abuse aimed at hardworking shop staff.”
Read More: Shoplifting Frenzy Sees UK Stores Resort to Desperate Measures
Violence toward retail staff has almost doubled since before the pandemic to 867 incidents a day last year, according to the BRC. Shoplifting has risen by about 27% in 10 major cities across the UK this year.
Assaulting or abusing a shop worker is already an offense in Scotland and retailers are calling for this to be expanded to other parts of the UK. It would also make theft more of a priority for police to crack down upon, after 44% of retailers said the response from police has been “poor” or “very poor.”
For one retailer, the police’s own data shows that they failed to respond to 73% of serious retail crimes that were reported, said the BRC. Upmarket grocer Waitrose and department store John Lewis are offering free hot drinks to on-duty police officers in an attempt to deter thieves.
In a sign of how widespread the issue has become, hundreds of teenagers gathered outside sneaker and “athleisure” retailer JD Sports Fashion Plc in August to take part in a robbery in Oxford Circus, London’s prime shopping district. The event was organized through Snapchat and Tiktok and resulted in arrests as crowds were dispersed by police. Shoppers were temporarily locked inside stores for their protection.
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