Tackling the impact of shoplifting in retail


Nick Mavrokordatos, Vodafone UK Head of Sales – Consumer Goods, Retail, Aviation, FMCG, explores the causes and impact of the rise in shoplifting, and outlines how Vodafone Business can help retailers with loss prevention. 

  • A recent surge in shoplifting and incidents of retail violence is taking its toll on retail businesses and their employees.  

  • Understanding the root causes of shoplifting and retail abuse, including the cost of living crisis and the under-reporting of incidents, is key to preventing them.  

  • Solutions like smart CCTV, body-worn cameras for retail staff and smart trolleys with IoT sensors are among the strategies being implemented to tackle this worsening problem.

The shoplifting epidemic: battling the stealing spree

In the bustling retail industry, a troubling epidemic has taken hold, threatening the livelihoods of businesses and the safety of their employees. Shoplifting has escalated and retailers are now faced with tackling this rising problem. 

Arresting facts and figures

New research by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) reveals that incidents of theft have increased by 27% across ten of the largest cities in the UK year on year, with some cities up as much as 68%.* Over 850 incidents of retail violence and abuse occur every day.** These incidents aren't confined to verbal abuse – incidents that involve physical assaults and weapons have almost doubled from the pre-Covid high in 2019/20.***

The financial toll of shoplifting is equally staggering. In 2021/22, the retail sector witnessed nearly eight million incidents of customer theft, resulting in a loss of almost £1 billion.*** These aren’t abstract figures – they’re the direct consequences of a growing crisis that requires a comprehensive response. 

Exploring the underlying causes

Understanding the root causes is crucial to finding effective solutions. Several factors contribute to the surge in shoplifting:

  • Cost of living  
    The rising cost of living has put financial strain on many individuals and families. These economic disparities can lead to feelings of frustration and desperation among those who are struggling financially and for some, shoplifting has become an unfortunate response to economic pressures. 

  • Low risk, high reward  
    Shockingly, not even 4% of shoplifting crimes are reported to the police****, and only 5% of shoplifters ever face legal consequences.***** The items taken are typically low value, so the risk of severe punishment is reduced and makes shoplifting an attractive proposition for those willing to take a chance. 

  • Results of cost savings  
    In theory, automated check-out systems are a straightforward means of cost-saving. However, research indicates that theft in stores with self-checkout machines tends to be up to 52% higher compared to stores with traditional checkouts.****** Finding the optimal balance between technological advancement and loss prevention poses a challenge that retailers must tackle.

Counting the costs of shoplifting

The consequences are profound, affecting both retailers and their employees. Shoplifting incidents have a negative impact on retail employees' both mental and physical health.  

It's encouraging to see efforts to protect these essential workers, such as the amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022. This amendment, which enforces stronger sentences for those found guilty of violence and abuse against retail workers, sends a resounding message that such assaults are wholly unacceptable. However, for it to serve as a true deterrent, it must be widely enforced. 

From a financial perspective, retailers are grappling with annual losses exceeding £1 billion from customer theft alone. To counter these losses, businesses must allocate significant resources to prevention measures, which, ultimately, can translate into higher prices for consumers. 

Thefts have increased by 27%

across ten of the largest cities in the UK year on year.

850 incidents

of retail violence and abuse occur every day.

Thefts increase up to 52%

in stores with self-checkouts compared to traditional ones.

Taking action

Recognising the urgency of the situation, Britain's largest retailers are taking proactive steps to address rising shoplifting and create safer shopping environments for both customers and employees. Their investments in security infrastructure aim to reduce the volume of shoplifting.  

“At Vodafone, people safety is always our main priority and at the forefront of everything we do. It’s a vital part of our approach to physical security, process, training, and awareness in protecting and supporting our teams and those... LIMIT”

Here are some of the most effective strategies being implemented across retail businesses:  

  • Increasing the number of security guards: Retailers are boosting security by deploying more security guards to deter potential thieves. 

  • Optimising CCTV: Retail CCTV cameras are being connected and optimised with 5G connectivity to become ‘smart CCTV’ systems, making the most of existing investments and obtaining more detailed insights to be used as evidence and learnings of potential hotspots.  

  • Deploying loan worker solutions: Discreet lone worker protection solutions give employees reassurance that their safety and wellbeing is being prioritised. 

  • Introducing body-worn cameras: Body-worn cameras for retail staff not only serve as a deterrent but also provide crucial evidence in case of incidents. 

  • Using smart trolleys: Innovative technologies, such as smart trolleys equipped with locking systems and IoT sensors, are being employed to minimise pushout theft. 

  • Collaborating with industry bodies: Retailers are actively collaborating with the likes of the BRC to drive government action and collectively combat the issue. 


The rise in shoplifting is a pressing concern that calls for immediate action. While technological advancements are essential for the evolution of the retail industry, they must be accompanied by security measures that protect employees and consumers alike. 

Discover how Vodafone Business is helping to digitally transform retail experiences

*BRC, July 2023, Retail theft up 27% across ten of the largest UK cities 

**Retail Insight Network, July 2023, BRC says retail theft and abuse have increased in ten of UK’s largest cities 

***BRC, March 2023, Crime survey: “appalling levels” of violence and abuse against retail workers 

****The Guardian, June 2023, ‘One guy uses us like a larder’: the British shoplifting crisis – as seen from the tills 

*****BBC, July 2023, 'The cost of living started my shoplifting': Why stealing goods is on the rise 

******ECR Retail Loss, Self-checkout in retail: measuring the impact on loss 

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