The number of incidents of shop theft in UK convenience stores increased by five times over the past year, according to new research by the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS).

The ACS 2024 Crime Report found that UK stores recorded 5.6m incidents of shop theft over the last year, significantly more than the previous record of 1.1m incidents recorded in the previous year’s study.

The study highlighted that retailers have recorded over 600 incidents of theft an hour over the last year and a massive rise in violent incidents committed against retailers and their colleagues - around 76,000 incidents of violence in shops compared to 41,000 in 2023’s report.

The research also found that the top motivations for repeat offending are drug or alcohol addiction, organised crime and opportunism while the top triggers for abuse in stores are encountering shop thieves, enforcing the law on age restricted sales and refusing to serve intoxicated customers.

“Convenience stores are increasingly targeted by gangs stealing to order and looting. We share evidence, and I would encourage retailers to report crime every time, but we need to have faith that the police will investigate offences and use that data – particularly to target these organised groups.” 

Spar retailer Susan Connolly

The Crime Report also found that retailers spent £339m over the last year in areas like CCTV, security staff, intruder alarms and internal communication systems. The ACS estimates that the cost of crime and the cost of investing in fighting crime results in a 10p ‘crime tax’ on every transaction that takes place in every store across the UK, up from 6p in 2023.

ACS chief executive James Lowman said: “Retailers are facing an onslaught of crime committed against their businesses on a daily basis, with some losing tens of thousands of pounds per year to theft alone. This extended crimewave cannot be allowed to continue. Thieves are known to the community and to the police but they simply do not care, and continue on regardless, filling baskets and trolleys and walking out without fear of reproach.

The publication of the 2024 Crime Report comes just weeks ahead of the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) elections. The ACS has been calling on all PCCs to share important information about how they are prioritising retail crime, how retailers can report incidents most effectively, and what strategies are in place to get prolific offenders off the streets.

“I’ve witnessed firsthand the escalating challenge of shop theft. This issue not only affects our business’ already strained finances, but it also puts our staff and customers in distress. We’ve had to implement significant security measures to protect our premises and people, but crime remains a daily problem for us.”  

Freshfields Market owner Benedict Salvaratnam

The ACS also called on the government to: deliver justice for shopworkers and effective sanctions for offenders; focus additional police resources on neighbourhood policing to keep communities safe and support further investment in technology to deter and detect criminals.

“There have been positive steps forward made in recent months with the publication of the Retail Crime Action Plan and the launching of Operation Pegasus to try and better identify prolific offenders and bring them to justice, but the figures in our report demonstrate that more needs to be done urgently,” added Lowman. “Nobody should have to come to work and face what retailers and their colleagues have faced over the last year.”