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Bira raises concern at impact of retail crime on independents

by Rachel Symonds
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A new survey assessing the impact of retail crime on businesses has prompted a leading organisation to raise concern.

Alarming figures have emerged from a second survey conducted by the British Independent Retailers Association (Bira) in assessing the impact of the ongoing retail crime wave plaguing Britain’s high streets. Bira says the report sheds light on the escalating threat of retail crime faced by traders.

Conducted in March 2024, this second survey six months on from the last, provides a comprehensive overview of the impact of criminal activities on independent retailers across the UK. The findings of the survey highlight the persistent threat posed by retail crime to independent businesses, with alarming statistics revealing the extent of verbal and physical abuse suffered by shop staff, as well as the increasing prevalence of theft and cybercrime.

The 2024 survey revealed 35.5 per cent of people had experienced verbal abuse from individuals in their shop – a decrease of 7.5 percentage points in verbal based incidents from six months ago. Among those subjected to verbal abuse this year, 66 per cent chose not to report it, consistent with the figures from the previous year. Of those who did report it to the police, 29 per cent indicated that the police didn’t attend, showing an improvement in police attendance over the past six months. In the 2024 survey, of those where police did attend, 57 per cent did not lead to prosecution – an increase in non-prosecution levels.

Shockingly, incidents of physical abuse are still high, with a slight increase of 7.95 per cent (from 7.23 per cent) of shopkeepers experiencing violence, including threats with weapons such as needles, knives, and even one shop keeper having a hammer thrown at them. Of those physically assaulted, a concerning 70 per cent opted not to report the incidents to the police, while in 2023, 82 per cent also didn’t report it. The amount of physical abuse suffered by shop staff seems to have peaked within the last three months, while 53 per cent reported that physical attacks have gotten worse in the past year.

Of those surveyed, 96 per cent expressed that retail theft had worsened over the past 12 months, mirroring the sentiment of 92 per cent in 2023. Some shopkeepers conveyed their scepticism towards the effectiveness of the 101 number, citing it as “too much trouble” to report every incident, while many deemed reporting as “pointless”.
The survey also indicated a slight increase in cybercrime related to online product sales, rising from 6.8 per cent to 9.4 per cent, with fraudulent transactions and online scams being the most prevalent.

Andrew Goodacre, CEO of Bira, commented: “The results of our second crime survey paint a troubling picture of the challenges faced by independent retailers across the UK. Retail crime not only inflicts financial losses but also poses a grave threat to the safety and well-being of shop staff. The national retail crime action plan was launched last September and maybe it is too early to judge if it is making a difference. However, we are hearing mixed feedback about the buy-in from individual police forces and that is unacceptable. We have a national problem that merits a national, co-ordinated and consistent response. Bira will continue to work with the Home Office and the police forces to better protect business owners and the people who work in the shop.”

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