COVID-19 has shaken up every aspect of life in the UK. The ways in which we work, relax and socialise have all been transformed, and many of these changes will remain long after the pandemic is over:
- Two thirds of UK companies are planning to allow partial homeworking after the pandemic
- 60% of UK workers are considering a career change
- 41% of people plan to travel less
- 31% plan to make fewer impulse purchases
- Debt has been repaid at record rates and half of UK adults have set up a “rainy day fund”.
How has crime changed during the pandemic?
In a time of such widespread social upheaval, it’s not surprising that crime has also been affected. A year of lockdowns has caused overall crime rates to fall significantly:
- Crime decreased by 32% during the first lockdown
- Overall crime fell by 8% in 2020
- Domestic theft and burglary dropped by a quarter as people spent more time at home
- Violent crime fell sharply with 50,000 fewer people admitted to A&E with violence-related injuries
This is positive news, but we shouldn’t be too quick to celebrate. A reduction in crime does not necessarily mean a reduction in criminality. Instead, multiple lockdowns may have simply reduced the opportunities for criminal activity.
Furthermore, the overall drop in crime was accompanied by some worrying increases in specific offences:
- Online fraud rose by 70% as more people shopped online
- Drug offences rose by 15% as suppliers found it harder to move about unnoticed
- Reports of domestic abuse increased by 7% during the first lockdown, making up a fifth of all offences recorded by the police
What about retail crime?
Before the pandemic, retail crime was increasing steadily. The British Retail Consortium’s 2020 Retail Crime Survey makes for grim reading:
- Criminal activity cost stores over £1 billion in 2019
- £770 million was lost to customer theft
- The annual cost of retail crime increased by 9% in 2019, and 28% in 2018
Retail crime plummeted during the pandemic but, once again, things are not as positive as they seem. Although shoplifting fell by 29% in 2020, this can be attributed to store closures rather than a newfound respect for the law. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the stores that stayed open suffered disproportionately at the hands of thieves:
- Face masks allowed shoplifters to hide their identities
- Social distancing rules made it harder for security teams to monitor customer behaviour
- Security colleagues were focused on enforcing safety regulations, meaning they had less time to catch shoplifters
What does the future hold?
When non-essential stores reopened in July 2020, shoplifting incidents immediately rose by 27%. Now that stores are open once again, another increase is inevitable. The real question is whether shoplifting will return to pre-pandemic levels, or if it will increase even further.
The outlook is not encouraging. The pandemic has brought about changes in the way we shop which are likely play into the hands of criminals:
- 79% of shoppers plan to increase their use of self-checkouts after the pandemic.
- Studies have shown a direct link between self-checkout use and shoplifting.
- Many customers will continue to wear masks even if they are not mandatory. This will allow thieves to preserve their anonymity.
- A general rise in crime is likely as people begin to mix again. This could mean that the police will have fewer resources to deal with shoplifting incidents.
It’s important to remember that shoplifting is not always the result of opportunism. Sometimes people steal because they have no other choice. Following the 2008 recession, shoplifting in the UK increased by 19% as many families struggled to feed themselves. With over 800,000 people left jobless by the pandemic, a similar situation is sadly likely.
Whatever happens, we’re there for you
If the last 18 months have taught us one thing, it’s that the future is impossible to predict. Whether or not the end of the pandemic triggers a rise in theft, it never hurts to be prepared. Our system is designed to stop shoplifters in their tracks:
- Headsets allow colleagues to contact security from anywhere in store
- Keypads let checkout colleagues call for help without leaving their position
- Telephony integration allows colleagues to call emergency services at the press of a button
- Message casting helps external and on-site security teams to coordinate their efforts
- Headsets can be linked to CCTV cameras and tannoy systems for all-round protection
Shoplifting is bad for business and even worse for morale.