Shoplifting: How much is it really costing supermarkets?

Shoplifting has surged in recent months with supermarket bosses including Co-op Food managing director Matt Hood and John Lewis Partnership chair Dame Sharon White terming it “an epidemic”.

BRC director of business and regulations Tom Ironside says: “Shoplifting has risen by 27% in the past year across ten of the largest UK cities.

“These high levels of theft cost retailers almost £1bn in 2021/22, money that would be better used to reduce prices and invest in a better customer experience. To tackle this issue, retailers are spending hundreds of millions on security staff, CCTV, security tags, and other anti-crime measures.”

With data from the Co-op showing that there was more than 175,000 incidents in its stores in the first six months of 2023 – equating to almost 1,000 retail crime incidents a day – it is having a real and tangible impact on how UK supermarkets operate.

We take a look at how much shoplifting is costing retailers in monetary terms.

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As the two largest retailers in the UK, Tesco and Sainsbury’s have been the hardest hit by thieves over recent months, and has accounted for two-fifths (40%) of shoplifting cases overall in 2023.

Tesco store

Just this week, Tesco CEO Ken Murphy said abuse against staff was up 30%.

He said: “We believe it is totally unacceptable that anybody should have to suffer any abuse either verbal or physical at work, and while it’s a relatively small number of incidents, it is on the rise.

In response to the rise in crime rates, the UK’s largest retailer recently rolled out new protective screens at hundreds of its Express stores and petrol station kiosks to protect colleagues from assault.

More than 110 screens have already been installed at Tesco sites, with more set to be introduced in more than 250 shops, as part of a multi-million pound investment in colleague safety.


Upmarket retailer Waitrose has also been a target for shoplifters and Bérangère Michel, CFO of parent company John Lewis Partnership, revealed last month that it had “lost £12m to theft year-on-year”.

The supermarket has seen incidents of shoplifting rise in its stores across the UK with organised crime a big factor.

Lucy Brown, director of security for JLP,  told the BBC: “We’re seeing a real increase – some are one-off offenders but the majority are shoplifting on a regular basis, switching across all retailers.

The Co-op

The Co-op expects to lose more than £70m in shoplifting this year.

Shirine Khoury-Haq, the mutual’s chief executive, said the Co-op had already lost £33m to shoplifting and fraud during the first six months of the year.

She said that crime, shoplifting and anti-social behaviour has become “out of control”. The retailer talked of “looting’ taking place in some stores, such as the one seen in the video below.

It has also invested more than £200m in colleague and community safety in recent years.

Khoury-Haq told The Telegraph: “The real cost is to the physical and mental safety of our store colleagues and those stores where they have to face these issues every single day, and it should not be part of their job.”

Hood added that staff were regularly threatened with weapons and verbally abused.


Iceland boss Richard Walker revealed last month that it is losing £20m a year through shoplifting as he called for more powers to tackle criminals.

Walker told Mail Online he receives an average of 12 reports of “serious incidents” each week, where Iceland staff have been attacked by shoplifters.

Iceland store

“Colleagues are being slapped, punched and threatened with a range of weapons including knives, hammers, firearms and hypodermic needles. Assaults have resulted in injuries ranging from a broken jaw to a fractured skull.”

The Iceland boss has urged for security guards to be given the powers to search suspects, which they currently can only do with their consent.

Walker pointed out that store security overseas have greater powers to protect staff and detain criminals.

He told LBC: “You go to Spain, and you’ll have noticed that the security there, they don’t mess around. They’ve got truncheons and handcuffs…but there’s only so much our in-store security can do because they’re citizens.”

“They can’t search and arrest and detain indefinitely. And the shoplifters, these are organised gangs now. They know their rights. They know what they can get away with, and they’re quite flagrant.”



1 Comment. Leave new

  • Retailers have reduced staff levels to such a low level there is no visible deterrent whilst not passing on the savings to customers. Although I condone theft I feel that retailers need to accept some responsibility b


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