Retail Crime Costs in the UK

Retail Crime Costs in the UK 2019

There are several official and unofficial surveys of retail crime in the UK, including the Home Office Crime Against Business 2018, the British Retail Consortium’s Retail Crime Survey 2018, the Association of Convenience Stores’ The Crime Report 2019, as well as Sensormatic’s Global Shrink Index and Checkpoint’s Global Retail Theft Barometer. Each one has a different methodology and covers a slightly different purpose. CRR has worked with most of these organisations at some time to help develop their surveys of retail crime, and ran the Global Retail Theft Barometer for eleven years.

UK retail shrinkage 2019

- Almost £5.5bn

Total Crime Costs 2019

- £4,821mn

£73.00 per head

Update 2023. Project Pegasus

Project Pegasus is a new collaborative Police-Retailer partnership funded in 2023 by major retailers by contributions of £840,000.

Thirteen large multiple chains, including Tesco, M&S, Sainsbury's, John Lewis, B&Q, Next, the Co-op, T J Maxx and Primark are funding a method of identifying habitual thieves and organised retail crime by running their CCTV-footage through Police computers to identify prolific offenders and bring them to court.

The project will initially cost £840,000, provided by retailers to fund intelligence officers ann analysts. Estimates of 'consumer' shoplifting in 2023 show it has risen by between 25% and 37% over the past year, a result of police downgrading the priority given to shop theft, routinely failing to attend crime scenes and a tendency to refuse to investigate shop theft unless there is CCTV-footage and the amount stolen exceeds £200.

The provate security industry is also involved, with security-contractor Mitie a member of the programme as is the National Business Crime Solution (NBCS). NBCS is a not-for-profit partnership that gathers crime and offender data and shares information across the public and private sectors to identify crime trends and prolific offenders and so reduce business crime.  

Thieves have become aware that retail crime is fairly risk free and that shopkeepers cannot detain a thief unless there is a good prospect that the police will turn up and make an arrest. The Coop estimates that the police failed to respond to as many as 71% of their serious crime cases. The patterns of bad behaviour that originated during Covid and the sight on TV screens and online media of organised looting of stors n the U.S. have made them realise that the same conditions apply in the UK. Retailers are responsible for the safety and welfare of their emnployees and do not want them to be harmed by contact with agressive and often-violent shoplifters.

Most of the Operation Pegasus spending is to fund a specialist police team to work as part of the national police division assessing intelligence on serious organised acquisitive crime (called OPAL). The initiative will be led by the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) of Sussex, Katy Bourne. The team of six analysts, according to the Home Office, will "build a comprehensive intelligence picture of the organised crime gangs that fuel many shoplifting incidents across the country, to help target and dismantle them". Data from CCTV, number plate recognition (APNR), dashcam footage and elsewhere will be assessed to identify and arrest prolific shoplifters. We wish them every success. However, the delays in the courts system will probably mean that it will take some time before retailers start to see the benefits of this collaborative approach. 


Method of the 2019 Survey. For this report, Retail Crime Costs in the UK 2019, we identify the main costs of crime in summary form. We have taken account of the different studies published in 2018-2019 to further authenticate our findings, although CRR has carried out a survey of its own, involving 264 retailers drawn from different kinds of business, with a total of 19,000 stores and more than 400,000 employees. To prevent differences in the response rate from skewing the results, these are weighted by vertical market and by size of business.

Shrinkage. This is a shrinkage survey. Shrinkage is a measure used to check the loss rate by deducting the actual level of retail sales in a year from what retail sales should have been (based on goods delivered). The difference between the two values, adjusted for price increases/reductions and wastage is termed ‘shrinkage’ and is usually negative, meaning that stock has somehow disappeared.

Shrinkage and the losses caused by crime. The average shrinkage rate of the respondents to our study was 1.42% or almost £5.5bn. However this figure includes administrative errors, such as incorrect pricing or delivery mistakes, so it is not all crime. Table 1 shows the breakdown of the average shrinkage figure in 2019.

However if error is deducted from the shrinkage figure, and external thefts such as robbery, cybercrime and criminal damage (see Table 2) are included, then total UK retail crime losses in 2019 are estimated to be £4,821mn.

Shoplifting. Table 1 gives a figure for external theft of £1,993mn, equivalent to 34.6% of total shrinkage. This category is mainly shoplifting and organised retail crime committed by gangs. In a world where everyone now seems to carry a rucksack, goods can be hidden in their bag or a pushchair, clothes can be tried on in the cubicles and neither paid for nor returned, goods can be stolen and later returned for a full refund, or a ‘shopper’ can simply empty a shelf and walk out of the store with the products. The fact that the police now often avoid being involved in dealing with low-level retail crime and that an offender who has stolen less than £200 no longer needs to attend court, but can plead guilty by letter  (Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014), may have made potential offenders more willing to commit crime (Evans, 2019). The police in the year ending March 2019 recorded 374,395 shoplifting cases (Home Office, 2019), but the actual number of shoplifting cases is likely to be 15-21 times higher. Retailers have to ‘manage’ their use of the police to deal with shoplifters. They feel that unless they do this there is a danger that the police will not turn up at all. However if an offender is violent, the police normally respond speedily.  

Organised Retail Crime (ORC). ORC consists of gangs or groups of criminals stealing merchandise, data or cash from retailers. It is not one single type of theft. This might involve theft from consignments, delivery vehicles or warehouses. It can involve large-scale organised shoplifting and refund fraud using a network of small-time thieves, some of whom may well have been trafficked by the same gang. Gangs may also use violence to ensure compliance by shop staff.

On average our respondents estimated that 28.2% of their losses from external crime was caused by ORC, a total of £562mn.

Self scanning. The growing use of self-scanning by retailers has been associated with some increase in theft by customers, because there is no one to look over them. Retailers that have installed self-scanning are examining ways they can minimise losses by theft or customer error when using this equipment.

Staff theft. It is difficult to estimate the true level of staff theft as it can be hard to detect. Our respondents estimated staff theft to be around 22.1% of shrinkage or £1,305mn. Some of it often involves collusion between a members of staff and customers, eg a relative or a friend, although there is evidence that some ‘collusion‘ is the result of intimidation. Staff can mis-scan items, give too much change, or place merchandise in the wrong part of the store which they then steal. Goods in perfect condition can be left outside near the waste bins for later collection, or fake refunds can be given on goods that are never returned.
Suppliers & Warehouse. Retailers found large-scale fraud also involving their warehouses and suppliers, costing £915mn (18.0% of shrinkage). Warehouses operating 24 hours a day can be places where large-scale thefts occur as well as small-scale pilfering. In warehouses dealing with fashion or electrical goods, even pilfering can have a large price tag.
Errors. Administrative error, or simply ‘errors’, was estimated to cost retailers £1,202mn or 25.3% of shrinkage. This large figure is ‘error against planned sales’ and has multiple different reasons. The computer price file may have the wrong price for certain items, the wrong change can be given, or merchandise may be sent to the wrong store. Although retail is detail, companies increasingly accept that a significant part of their losses are caused by incorrect information in the central system, maladministration and failure by staff to adhere to agreed protocols.

…. a total of 41,000 violent incidents were reported

Violence and threats against employees. A growing problem in retail is the rapid increase in threats and violence made against employees. A 2019 report from the law firm Anstey found that 31 per cent of male workers in retailing have experienced physically aggressive or violent behaviour in the workplace and 23 per cent of women (Nazir, 2019). A total of 25 per cent of retail workers have experienced physically aggressive or violent behaviour.

BRC figures (2019) found that 115 staff were injured every day by unprovoked attacks: threats and actual violence doubled in 2018, when a total of 41,000 violent incidents were reported. The BRC reports three main triggers for violent behaviour: violence when stealing from a shop, violence as a response to age-related challenges (as required by law) for alcohol, cigarettes and knives, and violence when intoxicated by drugs or alcohol.   

I'm Too Scared To Work For some insight in what violence and threats from criminals can mean, see this article about the issues faced by some Ipswich security staff facing 'fearless thieves', a supine criminal justice system and underfunded police

The Police Response to Retail Crime. The speed and effectiveness of police response was regarded very negatively by the retail industry. According to the most recent BRC survey, 20% felt the police response was ‘very poor’ and 50% ‘poor’. Thirty percent said it was ‘fair’. No retailer surveyed thought it was ‘good’ or ‘excellent’. By type of incident, 20% thought the police response was ‘good’ regarding cases of violence against staff, 8% of police response was ‘good’ for cases of fraud and for customer theft 85% said it was either ‘very poor’ or ‘poor’.

eCommerce. We have not separated out crimes committed against eCommerce business, but expect to do so next year. The subtotals we have are included in the figures given in Table 1. Many of the crimes are similar to traditional retailing and include payment card fraud, identity fraud (goods sent to a stolen identity at a temporary accommodation address ), warehouse thefts or fraud by suppliers, refund fraud, false statements of ‘goods not received’ and retail wearing (goods returned for full refund after having been used or worn for a few weeks). Shrinkage losses suffered by ecommerce companies are generally less than one-half those of bricks-and-mortar retailers, but eCommerce retailers - particularly in fashion – are becoming increasingly concerned by high goods-returned rates as shoppers order multiple sizes and styles ‘just in case’. Obviously this is not a crime per se but it is becoming a major source of loss to which online retailers will respond by banning such customers.

Cybercrime. Electronic communication, storage and ordering are so common that it can be hard to distinguish cybercrime from other offences. Simply because electronic devices are used, does that make a fraud cybercrime?Our respondents thought that cybercrime had cost them £414mn. eCommerce and conventional retailers store customer details and payment details. These represent a pot of gold to crooks. The data can be sold on the dark web, used as targets for fraudulent approaches or as a source of legitimate false IDs. A 2019 BDO report estimated that 72% of companies suffering a data breach had lost sales and 67% had incurred significant legal costs. The three most costly forms of cybercrime were: malware (which can corrupt the system, overwrite files and even be used for ransom demands), web-based attacks or hacks (particularly data breaches) and DDOS (distributed denial of service, where the central systems or the customer-facing menus and ordering subsystems collapse under the weight of thousands of slave computers all logging in and attempting to register or place orders). The cost of cybercrime for retailers therefore can be: lost sales because orders cannot be placed correctly or paid for; loss of information because files have been overwritten or subsystems no longer calculate correctly; equipment damage; and business disruption because the stock and order systems (stock replenishment) or customer order systems no longer function correctly or accurately.   

UK + Retail Crime Estimates 2019

Table 2 lists the main crimes affecting retailers from shoplifting to criminal damage. The total losses from crime in 2019 are estimated to be £4,821mn. These figures do not include losses as a result of violence or threats to staff (although some are included in the robbery totals) nor the costs of employing security staff, investing in CCTV, electronic article surveillance, liaising with the police or the costs of joining a town-centre retail crime initiative. The BRC (2019) estimated the costs of security and crime prevention to retailers was £1bn in 2018. 


British Retail Consortium (2019) Retail Crime Survey 2018, London: British Retail Consortium
Evans, M. (2019) ‘Shoplifting Offences On The Rise Following The Introduction Of £200 Threshold For Offenders’ The Daily Telegraph, 1 February,
Home Office (2019) Crime in England and Wales Year Ending March 2019: PFA tables, London: Home Office.
Nazir, S. (2019) ‘1 in 10 retail workers experience unwanted sexual touching at work’, Retail Gazette, 15 August,

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