As retail crime continues to rise and shoplifting incidents surpass the highest levels since records began, a third of UK consumers witnessed an instance of retail theft in the past 12 months, according to the latest research by Retail Insight, the leading provider of store operations execution software.

With the ONS reporting that more than 402,000 shoplifting offenses were recorded by police in 2023 – the greatest number since records began in 2002 – retail crime is a growing and costly challenge for retailers.  Last year, cases of convenience store theft increased fivefold, while the British Retail Consortium (BRC) warns UK retail staff now face 1,300 incidents of violence and abuse each day in a battle to control ‘brazen’ acts of shoplifting.  Figures, also published by the BRC, suggest the total cost of retail crime to British retailers doubled in 2023 to £3.3billion.

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Such is the extent of rising retail theft that customers are increasingly noticing crime in-store.  Original research of over 1,000 UK shoppers by Retail Insight revealed that 30% had witnessed an instance of shoplifting during the past year, rising to 44% of consumers in London.  The poll also suggested that in the last 12 months the average UK shopper had witnessed four instances of theft in-store, rising to five shoplifting incidents for average consumers in London.  

While these numbers are alarming, retailers are responding by investing in their loss prevention (LP) strategies, which typically include the reduction of blind spots, placing high value items behind locked or secure cabinets, or increasing security presence in store. 

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Crazy Black Friday sales. Stressed African American man security guard trying to hold back frenzied crowd, talking by walkie-talkie, calling for reinforcement while patrolling clothing store entrance

Whilst these can be effective, they also tend to have a detrimental effect on the customer experience, and only tackle one cause of shrink.  The reality for retailers is that there are multiple facets to shrink, most of which are not as easy to identify.  These unknown causes are where retailers need a more nuanced solution, as Paul Boyle, CEO of Retail Insight, suggests:

“There’s little doubt that shoplifting poses a challenging and costly issue for retailers, many of whom are already giving away margin to keep the cost of everyday foods as low as possible for customers amidst cost-of-living pressures,” he said.  “However, it’s important to consider that theft is just one driver of shrink and only tells part of the story.” 

While shoplifting accounts for an estimated 65% of total shrink, process errors, which can have a dramatic impact on inventory signals, are estimated to cause a quarter (25%) of all retail loss.  

“Often process errors creep in from legacy systems,” Boyle continued.  “So, retailers need access to tech that pinpoints potential process failures and provides the data-led insights needed to resolve them to create effective loss prevention strategies.  And this requires a store-wide view of inventory, and the automation or prompts needed to correct stock inaccuracy, in order to mitigate loss and wider shrink.”

Retail Insight’s InventoryInsight solution offers estate-wide inventory visibility and uses sales patterns, historical audit data and product range data to automatically identify and correct inaccurate inventory records.  Whilst improving data accuracy and operational effectiveness, the solution also offers root cause analysis using generative-AI data analysis, helping retailers optimise their loss prevention technologies and processes.