Theft from stores across 10 UK cities is up by a quarter
San Francisco’s shoplifting epidemic is shocking to behold. But we shouldn’t imagine that the same couldn’t happen here. In fact, we’re well on our way. According to the British Retail Consortium, theft from stores across 10 UK cities is up by 26%. More, “incidents of violence and abuse against retail employees have almost doubled on pre-pandemic levels.”
On Tuesday, Asda Chairman Stuart Rose told LBC that “theft is a big issue. It has become decriminalised. It has become minimised. It’s actually just not seen as a crime anymore.”
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In the absence of an adequate response from the authorities, retailers are beginning to take defensive measures. For instance, home furnishings company Dunelm is now locking up duvets and pillow cases in cabinets; Waitrose is offering free coffees to police officers to increase their visibility; and Tesco plans to equip staff with body cameras.
The “progressive” response to this phenomenon isn’t quite as deranged as it is in in the US. Nevertheless, British liberals have responded as expected. A piece in the Observer is typical. You’ll never guess, but apparently it’s all the Tories’ fault: “Starving your population and then ‘cracking down’ on it for nicking baby formula or a can of soup can start to make a government look rather unreasonable.”
But as the writer ought to know, the issue here isn’t the desperate young mum hiding a few groceries in the pram. Nor is it the schoolboy pilfering the occasional bag of sweets. Rather, the real problem is blatant, organised and sometimes violent theft of higher value items. Criminals who never previously thought they could get away with it increasingly now do — thus presenting a material threat to retail as we know it.
But instead of addressing the issue head-on, the writer blames the victim: “Once goods were kept behind counters, but since the birth of large supermarkets they have been laid out near the door, ready for the taking.” How terribly irresponsible of them! On the other hand, perhaps the open display of goods isn’t just a convenience for customers, but instead the hallmark of a high trust society.
In fact, modern shops are a minor miracle of civilisation: public spaces, stacked high with products from all over the world, that passing strangers may freely inspect and handle, but which aren’t looted by anyone who feels like it.
Surely, that’s something worth defending. But if you’d prefer to abandon retailers to their fate, then don’t moan when they do what it takes to survive. Some will close, of course, and others will move their operations online. Those who stay open will guard themselves and their stock behind plexiglass and electronic tags. And then there’s the hi-tech solution: the fully automated and completely cashless store, in which customers have to be authenticated to even get in.