Christmas is a special time for retailers, but a report from the Centre for Retail Research and Checkpoint Systems indicates that will be a bonanza for thieves and fraudsters, and fashion and lingerie are among the most-targeted items, according to one of the authors, Professor Joshua Bamfield.
The "Shoplifting for Christmas" report says that £999 million will have been lost to shoplifting and fraud in the period from mid-November to the end of December – that’s 22% of the year’s total in just six weeks, representing a 3.4% increase on last year.
"One of the stories is that there has been a growth in organised crime," Professor Bamfield told LI today. "It’s not the Krays or anything, but there are loose-knit organisations involved in drugs and prostitution, and so shoplifiting is part and parcel of that."
Professor Bamfield explained that in one of the common scams, perpetrated on chain stores, the criminals would legitimately buy a bra, get a receipt, make 15 or so copies of the receipt and use the copies to steal more of the same item.
Boutiques are more likely to face straightforward theft. "Smaller stores don’t deal with crime on a regular basis and the thieves know that, so it can be very direct and in your face," he said.
He said that organised crime is more focused in chain stores, smaller shops suffer more from shoplifting, and that overall the crime at this time of year is a combination of people stealing for themselves or to resell, gang crime and employees using their internal knowledge to cheat retailers, sometimes in collusion with customers.
"Some of these thefts can be internal as well as external, though it’s terrible to think of that," he said. "Lingerie is accessible, very stealable and easy to resell."
While theft will never go away entirely, it is possible to safely reduce the impact on stores, said Professor Bramfield.
"One of the problems is that many small shops are run by just a supervisor and a junior, both female. The advice there is by all means staff can politely approach someone they suspect of stealing an item and offer a different size or colour, to let them know they’re onto them, because we know that thieves don’t like to be approached, but they shouldn’t put themselves at risk. They should be trained in how to deal with different situations."
He also advised CCTV, electronic tagging of items most likely to be stolen – an action to be taken if something happens. "Often no one bothers when an alarm goes off," he points out.
The shop should be laid out in a way that communicates to shoplifters that this is not an easy store to steal from, especially at Christmas, and expensive items should not be put out by the door.
He added that though retailers may not have an overwhelmingly positive view of the police, they should use them anyway. "The police know that Christmas is a heyday for thievesl they might well do more at this time of year, including plain-clothes observation."
Finally, Professor Bamfield advised working together with other retailers. "If you have a problem with shoplifting, the other shops in the area will too. Town centre crime inititatives, though they normally have a fee to join, will usually have a lower fee for small retailers. They are worth joining."