Supermarkets in the UK are taking drastic measures to prevent shoplifting, as the crime reaches its highest level in four years amid rising cost of living.
Some stores have fitted steaks and cheese with security tags and coffee with dummy jars to deter thieves. Others have limited the number of items on display, especially high-value products.
The BBC analysed data from police forces in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and found that shoplifting offences rose by 30.9% in March compared with the same month last year. Nearly 33,000 incidents were recorded.
Retailers say they are spending heavily on anti-crime measures to protect their staff and customers.
The BBC contacted all the main supermarkets in the UK to ask about their security policies. Some, including Waitrose, declined to comment. Others said the measures were not nationwide, but local decisions based on the level of theft.
Photos circulating on social media have shown some of the anti-shoplifting tactics being used at different supermarkets.
One user posted a picture of steaks enclosed in security devices at a Co-op store. “They’re packaging steaks like they’re gold bars,” they wrote.
Another user posted a picture of “dummy” coffee jars on a shelf at Co-op, with customers told to ask at the counter if they want to buy the real thing. “Cost of living reaching new heights, my local Co-op is now a grocery show room,” she wrote.
A Co-op spokesperson told the BBC that these were not nationwide policies at their stores. They added: “Protecting the safety of our colleagues is a priority and we know shoplifting can be a flashpoint for violence against shop workers so whilst this is not a nationwide policy, a decision to implement product security measures at a local level can be made, if a store is experiencing a particular issue.”
Separately, pictures have emerged of shelves at M&S with only three steaks on them. Writing on Twitter, one user, Lorraine King, said she was “shocked” at the sight of the near-empty shelves. She said a worker told her the move was deliberate, as otherwise “thieves clear the shelves in one swoop and do a runner”.
An M&S spokesperson told The Telegraph that the company did not have a policy to restrict the number of products on sale. They said: “Like many other retailers, in certain stores where there have been high incidences of theft, we will sometimes limit the number of higher value items that are on display to deter shoplifters and keep our colleagues and customers safe. If a customer wants more of a particular item than is displayed on the shelf, our colleagues are always on hand to help.”
Shoplifting cost retailers nearly £1 billion in losses in 2021-2022, according to the British Retail Consortium’s annual Crime Survey. The most common tactic used to deter would-be shoplifters is to put security tags on items, making them more difficult to steal without security being alerted.
– Steaks and coffee protected as shoplifting soars, BBC News, 31 May 2023
– M&S puts just one steak on shelves to deter shoplifters, The Telegraph, 29 May 2023