New figures from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) show that store owners are still losing the battle against retail crime and shop staff are bearing the brunt in the form of more physical and verbal abuse.

According to the BRC’s annual retail crime survey, physical violence against store staff went up by 14% during 2004, while verbal abuse rose by 35%. Findings from the survey, which was carried out across 13,360 retail outlets, including 4,511 supermarkets and c-stores, showed that the total cost of crime to the retail industry hit £2.13bn, an increase of nearly 9% on 2003, while total losses from crime rose by £420m.

Commenting on the survey, BRC director general Kevin Hawkins said: “The results challenge any supposition that retail crime is on its way down. Losses through crime by value in 2004 were virtually the same as in 2000 and significantly higher than in 2003. The most worrying trend, however, is the growth of violence and verbal abuse directed at retail staff.” Home Office minister Hazel Blears acknowledged that more had to be done. She announced that a new national steering group on retail crime, made up of representatives from senior retailers and the Home Office, would launch in November.

Incidents of known theft by customers increased in 2004 to 3,385 per 100 outlets from 2,866 in 2003, while the cost of customer theft increased by 44% to £589m. Losses attributed to staff theft rose to £498m from £282m in 2003.

The survey also showed that robberies were getting fewer but more costly - the number halved to four per 100 outlets, while the cost of robbery increased to more than £8m in 2004, up on 2003’s £7m. After the huge investment in crime prevention in 2003, the amount spent on store security dropped by £249m in 2004 to £710m. However, investment in Chip and PIN technology seems to have paid off with credit card fraud down by 34%.

Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) public affairs manager James Lowman believes the findings are a timely reminder for retailers to look at their security measures. He said: “It is interesting that spend on crime prevention has fallen. Retailers constantly need to reassess their security measures.”