The Shoplifters’ Hit Parade

Shoplifters’ Hit Parade 2019 – Most Stolen Merchandise 

Thieves will steal almost anything. If it is worth holding in stock, it is probably worth someone's time to steal it. The only limitation on what people might steal occurs when the resale value of an item is so low that the risk of being apprehended is much higher than the potential gain from theft.

People may steal items for their own use or, more often, to sell on to other people, including market traders and other businesses. For more information see Bamfield, J A N (2015) Shopping and Crime, London: Palgrave Macmillan.

The Shoplifters' Hit Parade 2019

  • Packed meat, such as steak, lamb and bacon from supermarkets and convenience stores. These are expensive items in high demand and can readily be sold door-to-door or in pubs and clubs.
  • Razor blades: these are small expensive items in regular demand with a ready market.
  • Whisky, champagne, gin and other alcoholic products like prosecco are expensive items with a ready illegal market. The new popularity of artisan gin makes it a frequent target.
  • Cosmetics, makeup and lipsticks are regularly stolen for personal use, as gifts or for sale to others. The containers are often small and goods can be secreted in pockets, bags or knapsacks. Other products in this often-stolen category are sun-cream, skin-cream, hair treatment and shampoo.
  • Cheese. Ten years ago, based on our research cheese was the most-stolen product in the UK and Europe. It may be stolen for commercial purposes along with expensive specialist products like parmesan. 'Most stolen product from shops? Answer: cheese' was one of the questions in pub quizzes for a couple of years. The quiz setter rang us up at the time to check whether this was true.
  • Branded under-arm deodorants. These are popular items to steal and can be shoplifted in bulk by quickly ‘sweeping’ a fixture with one’s forearm.
  • Batteries. These are small, expensive items in regular demand.
  • Clothing accessories: these include scarves, handbags, purses, gloves and other small and expensive things.
  • Coffee: coffee is an expensive item in regular demand and may be stolen for person use or re-sale. Ordinary packet tea in the UK is now so cheap that there is usually no real gain from stealing it.
  • Baby clothes: growing babies regularly need larger outfits and the potential market for selling on is easy to spot.
  • Jeans: the switch to more casual forms of dress, even amongst office workers, made jeans ever more popular in all age groups from ageing baby-boomers to millennials. Often stolen in batches they are easy to sell on.
  • Perfume and fragrance: costly products that are relatively easy to steal.
  • Small electrical goods and accessories: electric toothbrushes, smart speakers, iPads, headphones, shavers, data sticks. Smartphones are slightly less likely to be stolen because of robust security devices.
  • Sport fashion: athleisurewear -  in line with rising consumer demand, thieves steal branded items, sports shirts, football strips and trainers.
  • Boxed sets DVD and games.

Shoplifters: a note. The term, shoplifter, has been used in English to mean ‘customer thief’ for at least three centuries. Retailers in the UK feel that the use of this term implicitly suggests that customer theft is a minor, low-impact offence. 'Shoplifter'is still conventionally used in the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. In terms of the total value stolen, shoplifting is one of the major crimes committed in the UK.

A Voice From The Past - 1817

The Proceedings at The Old Bailey, London      15th January 1817

WILLIAM POWERS was indicted for stealing, on the 11th of December 1816, two shoes, value 8 shillings [equivalent to £0.40 then or £34 at current prices], the property of Charles Bamfield.

CHARLES BAMFIELD. I am a shoemaker, and live at No. 74, Newgate-street, London. On the 11th of December, about five o'clock in the afternoon, the prisoner came into my shop, and asked for a pair of shoes and a pair of boots. I showed him the shoes, they fitted him, and I put them aside for him, and fitted him a pair of boots; I had my back towards him. He was to pay me 2l. 6s. [£2.30, or £198.51 at current prices] for both pair. I was taking some boots from the pegs, and saw him doing something to his pocket. He pulled out four or five shillings [£20 at current prices], and wanted my boy to fetch some gin; I would not let him; he proposed my going out with him to have some - I refused; he then said, you will not hinder me from going out. I told him I must first know what he had in his pocket; he stepped back, and pulled two shoes out of his pocket - They were mine. I sent for a constable, when he shoved me, broke my window, and run out of the shop. I gave an alarm, and he was brought back. I am sure he is the man.

HENRY HARRIS. I am the officer; I took charge of the prisoner; the next day he told me he was sorry for it, and was afraid he should be transported.

(Property produced and sworn to.)

GUILTY. Aged 22.

Confined One Year, and publicly Whipped.

[Charles Bamfield does not only share a surname with me, but is my great-grandfather's grandfather. He was born in Grantham, Lincs, where he was served his apprenticeship, before moving to London, where he eventually set up business as a saddler as well as running a shoe shop. Although the punishment may seem onerous compared to what goes on in the 2020s, where it might even be treated as a civil matter, William Powers under English law applied twenty years before would have been hung. Compared to this, prison and a whipping may have seemed quite lenient. However this was not the only case of theft and robbery that affected Charles Bamfield in his commercial life.]

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