Almost Half of Retailers Experienced Increased Violence During the Pandemic

It was not just a loss of profits that hurt British retailers during the pandemic, almost half of them (46%) reported an increase in violence and assaults in their premises.

These findings come from the Home Office’s recently released annual Commercial Victimisation Survey, which reports on the prevalence, frequency and impact of crime on retail and wholesale businesses in England and Wales. This year’s report covers the period from April 2020 to March 2021, providing insight into how the pandemic and the restrictions that resulted from it impacted crime and how businesses responded it.

Below, we will be covering the key findings from the survey and their implications for retail security.

Theft rose across the board but supermarkets bore the brunt

Theft by customers was the most common type of crime suffered by retailers and wholesalers during the pandemic, with more than a quarter (27%) of premises being a victim.

Despite extended periods of non-essential retail being closed — during which theft dropped sharply — the year still saw an increase in theft overall compared to pre-pandemic levels, when theft was reported by 24% of businesses surveyed.

Of businesses that were victim to customer theft, 28% had items stolen weekly and 11% suffered theft several times a day. The increase in grocery theft to 39% up from 33% in 2018 suggests that much theft was driven by poverty and desperation — something to keep an eye on as inflation puts pressure on the public’s spending power.

Unsurprisingly, supermarkets were most likely to be victims of theft, with more than three-quarters (77%) reporting the crime compared to just over a fifth (22%) of all other retail and wholesale premises. This was a jump of more than 10% over pre-pandemic figures, when 66% of supermarkets experienced theft.

More than a quarter of retailers enhanced their security

In response to the increase in violence and assaults reported by almost half (46%) of retail and wholesale premises, over a quarter (27%) of premises enhanced their site security during the pandemic with measures such as CCTV, security guards and staff awareness training.

In a sign of the intense political divisions over pandemic restrictions, the most common trigger for violent crime was disagreement with Covid-19 safety requirements such as mask wearing and social distancing, which were reported by 38% of premises.

Breaking down the nature of violence and assaults reported, 61% suffered verbal abuse related to Covid restrictions, 22% suffered threats and intimidation and 13% suffered a physical attack — an unacceptable level of disrespect shown to workers who were on the frontlines of the pandemic.

Half of retailers were not satisfied with police response

Retailers were divided on whether the police provided an adequate response to the crimes they suffered during the pandemic, with 47% stating they were very or fairly satisfied and 53% stating the opposite.

When asked about their more general satisfaction with policing in their local area and the actions taken to reduce crime on businesses, responses were slightly more positive but nowhere close to a ringing endorsement: 55% of retail or wholesale businesses were satisfied with local policing and 45% were dissatisfied.

As for the cost of crime, 68% of retail and wholesale victims suffered a financial loss, 60% suffered stolen goods and services while 46% experienced a loss of staff time. The impact was greatest on businesses with a larger turnover, with 11% of businesses with an annual turnover of £1 million plus reporting a serious financial impact from crime compared to just 3% of businesses with turnovers of less than £500,000.

The pandemic is winding down but new challenges are rising

Of all the figures in the survey, it is the increase in grocery theft and violence that were most revealing, as it shows that food poverty and political division are key motivators of crime. Worryingly, these are both factors that we expect will continue as inflation and cost of living increases put pressure on the public.

We recommend that retailers continue to invest in their security, as more than a quarter did during the pandemic, in order to prevent incidents of theft and violent crime. For more advice, our award-winning customer services team is happy to help at 0800 772 3786.

Magenta Security provide award winning security services throughout the UK. We are in the top 5% of ACS approved contractors and were the first security company in Europe to be awarded ISO 14001 for our environmental management systems.

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