Pandemic stops shoplifters in their tracks, but will lockdown ending see a resurgence?

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Shoplifting in the United Kingdom was slashed during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to an analysis of 2020 police data, with lockdowns and the closure of non-essential retail leading to the first reduction in theft since 2018. However, retailers are being warned that shoplifters will hit the profits of stores across the country, as the big reopening continues through May and into the summer and thieves continue to be let off.

Analysis of the data by Checkpoint Systems, a leader in the Electronic Article Surveillance (EAS) market with more than 50 years experience, has revealed a clear correlation between store closures and a reduction in shoplifting incidents – which declined by 30% compared to the same period in 2019. However, while these declines can be seen during the periods of mass closure across the UK, the reprieve was short-lived.

Shoplifters return to the high street

As stores reopened in June 2020, shoplifting incidents began to rise, culminating in the highest growth in July 2020, where a 27% increase was noted.

Stores in the Square Mile, South Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, and Staffordshire were among those targeted more frequently by thieves in June/July, with shoplifting up 167%, 55%, 53% and 51% respectively. This trend continued through to November when the closure of non-essential retail saw a UK-wide decline of 12%.

The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) continued to respond to the most incidents of shoplifting compared to other police forces around the country – 34,588 – but the number has fallen for the third consecutive year, from 47,460 in 2017. Meanwhile, Cleveland Police Service saw the biggest drop, with 49.8% fewer reported thefts.

Shoplifting continues to go unpunished

Alarmingly, of the 243,993 reported incidents in 2020, the number of those prosecuted remained low. In fact, in more than half of all cases (54%), no suspect could be identified or prosecuted. For Police Forces including the Metropolitan Police Service, Bedfordshire Police and Essex Police, this number grew exponentially with no suspect found in almost three-quarters of cases investigated. It’s not clear why this is, but inadequate security processes and theft prevention solutions are likely to be major factors.

Protecting profits in the ‘new normal’

As retailers welcome the general public back, store owners must protect their merchandise from theft and loss – be it online, in-store or along the supply chain so they can sell more. It is therefore imperative that retailers choose effective loss prevention systems and ensure that these are kept up to date – not only to detect theft but to prevent it from occurring in the first place.

Checkpoint Systems offers innovative state-of-the-art anti-theft and security solutions, including a world-class range of EAS options, designed to meet retailers’ needs for both product protection and design. Its revolutionary technology drives exceptional detection performance, allows for ease of installation, and includes integrated wireless connectivity (NEO).

Mike French, business unit director, Checkpoint Systems UK, commented: “The latest police data is a stark warning for retailers, as shoplifters return to the high street. The past 12 months have been undeniably difficult for so many, putting even greater pressure on stores to protect their bottom lines. With this insight, it is clear that as stores open and shoplifters return, retailers would benefit from reviewing their loss prevention strategies, to discover how to best protect their stores and return on investment.

“As a business with more than 50 years experience in the retail sector, we pride ourselves on being forward-looking and identifying innovative ways to support our retail customers. Now, more than ever, retailers need to understand how best to protect their stores; to deter and detect shoplifters and ensure a profitable and resilient future.”