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Shopping and Crime by Professor Joshua Bamfield
An important new book by Professor Joshua Bamfield on the causes of retail crime and combating it.
SHOPPING AND CRIME
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MORE ABOUT THE BOOK
SHOPPING AND CRIME: HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF
The Costs of Retail Crime
Theft from shops is the largest crime in Britain involving many more incidents and higher total losses than other crimes against individuals such as thefts from cars, burglary, mugging and other high-profile crimes - but it attracts a fraction of police attention and public sympathy because of a UK consensus that retailers bring it on themselves, according to a controversial new book.
Based on 2010 Home Office data, there were 540,655 domestic burglaries, 339,140 thefts from a vehicle, violence injury of a person 401,743 and robbery 75,101. The 800,000 witnessed shoplifting incidents and the sector official total of 11 million thefts - although the figure could be more than double this amount because of the number of times when thieves operate with impunity and not get caught or reported - outweigh these other crimes by a substantial amount. In addition the amount actually stolen from retailers is the mind-boggling total of almost £4 billion, with shoplifting alone costing shops £1,886 million. Despite the public indifference to shop theft, it is not a victimless crime because it costs each family in the UK £263.14 each year in increased prices to pay for the costs of crime including almost £1000 million worth of anti-theft technology.
In addition the HMRC lost £915 million on missing VAT, duty and corporation tax; court costs and punishment costs amounted to £474 million; and police costs of dealing with retail crime were £71 million. Retailers had to pay a further £446 million for business disruption, lost sales, and the human costs of dealing with violence and threats.
Antony Worrall Thompson's recent alleged theft of wine and cheese from Tesco makes him one of a number of so-called celebrity shoplifters whose reported misdemeanours were presented with an almost light-hearted glee across the tabloid press.
But a new book - Shopping and Crime - argues that celebrity shoplifting is nothing new - it pre-dates the introduction of self-service supermarkets, but - our attitudes to store theft have changed. For example, in 1799, Jane Perot, Jane Austin's aunt was apprehended and held in gaol until her trial for stealing lace, a crime of which she was months later acquitted. The author of Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe, himself a former retailer, argued in his 1726 journal "The Complete English Tradesman' that stores were being forced to employ more staff than justified by the level of trade, simply to prevent theft - perhaps the earliest example of store detectives or guards and an early indication that retailers must help themselves to prevent thieves helping themselves to merchandise. Defoe also used his novel Moll Flanders to describe tricks of the trade for shoplifting in 18th Century London.
But in this fascinating expose published on 16th March by Palgrave MacMillan, £55, the retail economist Professor Joshua Bamfield takes the long view of retail crime which sees the term 'lifting' coined as early as 1597 when referring to specialist crime where thieves passed garments to accomplices out of a window. Anecdotally, although no record exists, this could refer to sash windows that had to be first 'lifted' to make good their escape.
As Jane Perot personified, shoplifting was not the preserve of the poor, but also the domain of the prosperous middle classes as depicted in the 1787 picture - The Shop Lifter Detected which shows a fashionably dressed lady relinquishing the lace she had stolen and concealed underneath her dress.
Staff theft, which today represents a significant proportion of store losses through people in positions of trust, was prevalent in the 18th century. Defoe compared a retailer who took on such a 'thievish servant' to be like a journeyman who invites a highwayman into his carriage.
Shifting Attitudes to Retail Crime
Bamfield, also the author of the Global Retail Theft Barometer and Director of the Centre for Retail Research takes his readers on a further historical journey. He explores a theory that from the 1698 Shoplifting Act which made theft of any item over five shillings (25 pence) a Capital offence, there has been a gradual erosion in the severity of attitudes towards shop theft. This change in attitudes is more civilized as society's attitudes have moderated, but the book argues more controversially that opinions have tipped completely the other way so that hard-wired into our national psyche - from the public to the law enforcement community - there is a sub-conscious view that store theft is somehow the fault of retailers themselves.
By the mid-19th century shoplifting across the class boundaries had become described as a 'contagion' in the Times and asking whether it was the fault of the shoppers wishing for goods they could not afford or positing that the retailers could be inciting shoppers to steal because they were displaying their goods openly.
Daniel Defoe had written earlier that stores where staff were indifferent to customers and lacked hands-on management were exposed to persistent shoplifters. This fascinating theory continues with the satirical magazine Punch accusing department stores of 'shock and awe' in their 'seduction' of well-heeled ladies who, the writer argues, could not control their behaviour while letter writers to the Times openly suggested concern for their wives and daughters shopping alone for fear that they would be accused of theft.
Combating Retail Theft
The first rudimentary retail anti-theft technology had been introduced, with concealed lanyards attached to display items to prevent people snatching items and running - similar to the designs now used in mobile phone stores and to protect iPads from theft. Retailers also would attach markings to items not unlike today's tagging systems in order to identify any retrieved stolen items and store design and layout became a focus for monitoring customer behaviour. The wooden cash drawer that would go 'ping!' when opened was developed at this time to combat concerns about employee fraud. In the 1880s Sainsbury's used a young boy as an early form of CCTV surveillance. 'Little' McCarthy would stand on a box in the store, watching out for potential thieves and shouting using backslang to alert serving staff when he spotted a thief.
Early examples of leniency directed at wealthy shoplifters were identified in the mid-19th century when a judge found that a lady related to the aristocracy caught in the act of theft could not be found guilty because of the possible loss of station this would cause her. Punch argued that shoplifting was 'fashionable' because those involved were not in need. The diagnosis of 'kleptomania' was developed to prevent shame for middle-class female shoplifters.
A theme of empty consumerism - shoppers perceived to be worshipping in the cathedrals of Mammon through 'greed rather than need' and supermarkets driving smaller stores out of business and applying commercial price pressure to hard working farmers and suppliers - have contributed to a feeling that large businesses may be justified targets for criminal behaviour. The police often do not fully support retailers and may argue that retailers must do more to help themselves.
This view was crystallised in last year's August riots where the disturbances galvanised an instant Government, police and criminal justice response with participants being handed down lengthy jail sentences. Yet the riots were simply an acute version of the daily theft, aggravation and violence that retailers of all kinds face regularly.
The new book argues that the level of response to the rioters was unprecedented and away from the cameras, retailers have long been the victims of industrial levels of theft and the perpetrators are individuals not stealing for their own use but organised and travelling gangs funding flamboyant lifestyles from the proceeds of their sophisticated activities, safe in the knowledge that in the current climate attitudes to business crime allow much of their activity to pass under the radar.
Bamfield cleverly relates the untold story of the chronic under-reporting and the worsening indifference of the UK's 43 police forces as the budget cuts continue to take hold. He illustrates that although 800,000 thieves are apprehended by retailers every year, only 300,000 are handed over to the police, of which, only a tiny fraction result in a successful criminal prosecution.
Bamfield takes both a historic and economic perspective to underline his arguments.
The retail industry in the UK is the largest in Europe employing almost 3 million people and representing 23% of the country's GDP - more than that of the whole of the UK manufacturing sector. As such, the UK High Street is the shop window of economic performance - if footfall is strong, so is the British economy. But, he argues, there is a darker, unreported side to the High Street: retail crime, the full impact of which would have a seismic impact upon the criminal justice system if all incidents were put into the hands of the increasingly reluctant police and court system.
Retail crime - that committed by customers, dishonest staff, supply chain workers and credit card fraudsters - is conservatively estimated to cost £4 billion each year, a figure that includes the multi-million pounds worth of investment in detection equipment paid for the retailers themselves as the state focuses upon terrorism, drugs and child exploitation as key police priorities as KPIs over and above business crime.
Shopping and Crime also analyses the minutia of retail crime from average amounts stolen (£67) to what is stolen, what is their Modus operandi and what time of day and day of the week is the optimum theft time. He considers who steals more - men or women - and points out that far from one off small amounts that average hauls are large, lucrative and often industrial (stolen sums of more than £150 amount for almost half of the shop theft offences.
It also throws a forensic light on the blight of employee theft and why collusion can be gender specific.
This definitive work looks at public policy issues and what is happening on the other side of the Atlantic where growing trends in Organised Retail Crime have prompted harsher sentencing models. If Worrall Thompson is found guilty of theft, he is an example of an 'atypical' shop thief, those public figures like Jane Austin's aunt who are psychological risk takers - role models who are subjected to careful scrutiny by their public and somehow believing that the normal rules of society do not apply to them - even, Bamfield argues in extreme cases - despising store staff as ant-like creatures who simply take orders and can be easily fooled or that nothing will happen to them even if they do get caught. They are quite simply better than the security systems and the more pedestrian consumers who have to pay for their goods. It is an act of winning.
Contents of Shopping and Crime
Shopping and crime
Shopping and offending
Shopper and shoplifter
How shoplifters shop the store
The crime of theft: how much is stolen?
Theft by employees
The politics of retail crime prevention
Crime and punishment
The roles of loss prevention
Managing loss prevention
To buy a copy of Shopping and Crime by Prof Joshua A N Bamfield
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Publication date: 16 March 2012
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