Shoplifting is as old as retailing itself, but there are many reasons why we should not just dismiss it merely as an occupational hazard.
For one thing, as an industry we can barely afford the losses. Sales growth is hard to come by and margins are under pressure, so stock walking out of the door unpaid-for is the last thing retailers need right now. After all, it’s only the top few percentage points of turnover that deliver the profit for you and your family to enjoy the fruit of your hard work, so to have it eroded by theft is an outrage.
Secondly, the law is the law, and criminality should not be encouraged. The moment that a store gets a reputation for being soft on shoplifting, not only will these losses mount up, but it will become harder to prevent other forms of criminality and anti-social behaviour, such as vandalism and the intimidation of valuable, law-abiding customers.
Which is why the government’s proposal to downgrade shop theft of less than £200 to a summary offence is a dangerous precedent.
I use the word advisedly, because danger is everywhere. Only a couple of weeks ago a retailer, Prasanna ‘Nick’ Arulchelvam, was killed in a cash and carry car park. The circumstances are not entirely known, but the most likely cause was theft of his stock.
It’s virtually impossible to run a store and never suffer any shoplifting, but it’s important that the authorities do everything they can to discourage the practice. We need a clear signal from the government that retail and retailers are worth protecting, and not just fair game for the residual criminal elements in our society.