A shoplifting offence takes place every 90 seconds in the UK, and tough economic conditions could make the figure worse, according to the British Retail Consortium's (BRC) latest Retail Crime Survey.

Although the survey shows that customer thefts were down by 26% in the year to April 2008, more than 330,000 shoplifting offences take place in UK stores annually.

Other crime was also down, with the number of violent incidents down 63%, threats of physical violence down 92% and cases of verbal abuse down 36%.

According to the survey, retailers believe that the reduction in shoplifting and other crime is down to improved policing, their own efforts to prevent shop crime and economic stability during the period.

However, they are also worried that the economic downturn will cause retail crime to rise again.

"The credit crunch threatens to bring an abrupt end to this trend," said BRC director Stephen Robertson.

"Recent reports have focused on a surge in shoplifting and fuel thefts. Retailers are preparing for a rapid rise in these types of offences and are adapting crime prevention methods, for example, placing electronic security tags on expensive cuts of meat."

The BRC has also called for a reform on penalties for shop crime, describing current sentences as too weak. But it admitted that there was a lack of alternative to fixed penalty notices.

Robertson said: "Fixed penalties can be appropriate for first-time offences, but it's clear that some offenders are receiving them repeatedly.

"Reform is needed, but that means tackling inconsistency and properly enforcing the current guidelines."