What is the fact behind the ‘shoplifting epidemic’? Six key questions answered

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In accordance with media studies, in 2023 the UK skilled an unprecedented wave of shoplifting. The idea goes that the price of dwelling disaster and poor police responses are driving against the law wave.

Is that basically true? Right here, we assess six of the most well-liked assertions made about shoplifting in 2023. Are they fantasy or actuality?

1. Is there actually a shoplifting epidemic?

Shoplifting has elevated – however a lot of this displays the truth that it declined 60% within the pandemic. So studies of year-on-year modifications are deceptive.

Many crime sorts stay beneath pre-pandemic ranges as a result of we now do business from home greater than we used to. However by 2023 we had been out buying as a lot as earlier than. That offered camouflage for shoplifting, so it returned to, and now exceeds, pre-pandemic ranges.

Within the first six months of 2023, shoplifting reported to police averaged 7% above the pre-pandemic anticipated degree. It then elevated to twenty% above the anticipated degree in the summertime months. Whereas most shoplifting shouldn’t be reported to police, the out there knowledge means that the rise shouldn’t be as dramatic as some accounts counsel.

Delusion or actuality? Half-myth. To some extent it stays to be decided with higher knowledge – however there’s a drawback.

2. Has the cost-of-living disaster pushed individuals to theft?

It has change into frequent responsible the cost-of-living disaster for rises in shoplifting. Nevertheless, a number of information don’t match with this principle. Shoplifting by dependent drug customers, for instance, shouldn’t be because of the cost-of-living disaster.

Likewise, when shops like John Lewis decry theft of their high-end merchandise, this isn’t a cost-of-living concern – it implies organised gangs are working for revenue. That rationalization, put ahead by the retailers themselves, contradicts the concept elevated shoplifting is because of cost-of-living points.

Delusion or actuality? Delusion and half-truth.

3. Are organised gangs responsible?

One other model of occasions is extra believable – that organised gangs are the drawback.

The pandemic boosted on-line buying which made made e-fencing of stolen items simpler, which in flip drives shoplifting. E-fencing by way of on-line marketplaces is extra environment friendly and fewer dangerous than face-to-face on the street or pub.

The result’s that some gangs now steal to order. A latest estimate suggests stolen and counterfeit items account for 10% of on-line marketplaces.

In the meantime, because the retail sector expanded, tempting new merchandise have gotten available in giant and nameless self-service retailers. Will increase in mini-supermarkets means invaluable objects are nearer to the door with fewer employees between the thief and the exit.

In the long run, then, it’s change within the retail sector that inadvertently encourages shoplifting. We’d like extra proof, however organised crime gives a believable rationalization for elevated post-pandemic shoplifting.

Delusion or actuality? Probably actuality.

4. Have the police stopped caring?

The reality is, police haven’t been required to attend low-value shoplifting offences for a few years. This displays an extended historical past of drawback retailers draining police assets with repeat calls with out taking accountability for stopping thefts.

In spite of everything, is it honest to anticipate taxpayers, who pay for police, to foot the invoice? Or ought to retailers take accountability for shoplifting simply as different companies are more and more required to take accountability for carbon emissions?

Like emitting air pollution, creating shoplifting alternatives is successfully non-obligatory. Pointing the finger on the police deflects among the blame however it doesn’t deal with the true drawback.

Delusion or actuality? Delusion.

5. Are retailers beginning to lock up merchandise due to theft will increase?

In 2023 it was claimed that extra objects akin to cheese, meat and occasional are being locked away or tagged. The reality is that these have been among the many most stolen merchandise for a few years and tagging has been round for ages.

It’s a part of a decades-long technique of incremental enhancements to retail safety. By 2010, analysis recognized 30 measures used to assist retailers forestall theft, together with locking cupboards and including radio frequency tagging to items, tethering objects or utilizing dummy items akin to packaging with nothing in it.

Electric toothbrushes in secure packaging.
Tagged toothbrushes.
Shutterstock/Sean Aidan Calderbank

It takes time, however safety measures can evolve to be elegant and unobstrusive. Examples exist already – consider broad aisles with clear sight-lines and intelligent packaging designs that make objects troublesome to hide.

When somebody meets you and greets you on the door, it’s not simply to make buying nice. It reveals any person cares and is watching. The event cycle of safety means it generally begins as clunky and awkward earlier than turning into one thing higher.

Improved car and family safety decreased automotive crime and housebreaking by three-quarters since 1992, largely by way of non-punitive and unobtrusive measures. A collection of invisible automotive safety is now triggered by a key fob, for instance, and the very best family safety is in-built as built-in locks on good high quality doorways.

These measures clarify why there are fewer younger individuals coming into the legal justice system. What’s extra, customers are usually respectful of measures to cut back crime and promote security even after they incur a minor inconvenience, akin to tag removing at checkout. Total, the historical past of safety suggests we ought to be optimistic.

Delusion or actuality? Delusion.

6. Are social media provocateurs responsible?

Social media movies that glorify shoplifting and present methods to do it could also be a part of the image. Phrase of mouth took years to unfold data that now spreads globally in seconds.

A spate of thefts of Kia’s and Hyundai vehicles within the US is attributed to a viral TikTok explainer video and was stemmed solely when the car producers issued a software program replace. Flash mobs have been coordinated on social media, as when lots of of youths met to rob London’s Oxford Road shops.

Social media platforms are greatest positioned and have the technical know-how to develop measures to cease movies from spreading and to make them much less engaging to make and watch. It’s not simple however the proof means that “offenders” won’t simply circumvent bans on unlawful movies.

Delusion or actuality? Actuality however we’d like details about its influence.

What’s to be carried out?

We’d like higher details about the shoplifting drawback. However we all know that, with concerted effort, it’s potential to forestall shoplifting. Crime is at all times concentrated, so prevention efforts ought to be centered on the small proportion of retailers that disproportionately expertise shoplifting and the small variety of scorching merchandise which might be common amongst thieves.

On-line eCommerce platforms are greatest positioned to forestall e-fencing, and social media platforms greatest positioned to disrupt provocateurs. The suitable function for presidency is to encourage these personal sector brokers into motion by way of incentives (akin to tax breaks for safety) and disincentives (akin to risk of regulation and fines).


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