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According to recent figures, retail crime costs the UK an estimated £2.2 billion every year* and this number is on the rise. Despite huge investment into crime prevention, retailers, their premises and their staff remain constantly under threat, be it from violence, theft, criminal damage or fraud. At The Retail Mutual theft or violent crime can account for up to 47% of annual claims and the Mutual has paid out a staggering £2.1 million for theft claims over the past three years. With average claim values increasing by 27% since 2018, it is clear that the costs to individual business owners, the retail sector as a whole and the cover providers who protect it are getting higher all the time. So, what can you do to maximise security and reduce the risks of falling victim to retail crime?

While some crimes are planned carefully in advance, many are the work of opportunists. But whether they are acting on the spur of the moment or planning for a future attack, before committing a criminal act, the perpetrators will always weigh up the odds and decide if the payoff is likely to be worth it. As a business owner, there are certain steps you can take to tip the balance in your favour and help to ensure your shop is not their target.

1. Install CCTV

The simple presence of CCTV cameras can act as a deterrent to a would-be criminal, but it is worth installing the best you can afford to ensure they capture good-quality images in the event of an incident. Not only is CCTV footage helpful in identifying the perpetrators of theft and violent crimes, it can also be helpful to insurers and other cover providers in defending spurious public liability claims . If a member of the public has a slip or fall on your business premises it can result in a hefty liability pay out. At The Retail Mutual public liability accounted for over £350,000 worth of claims in 2020 at an average of almost £8,000 per claim, so it is important to be able to document what has happened to be sure that the claim is genuine.

Placing signs in and around your shop to inform people that you have CCTV actively working can help as a deterrent, and don’t forget to ensure it is switched on; this can mean the difference between capturing vital evidence or not if a criminal act occurs.

2. Light it up

Thieves like to operate where they are least likely to be seen, so it is always worth installing plenty of lighting in and outside your shop. Not only can it make you less of a target in the first place, but if someone does try to gain access to your premises or shoplift your stock, they are much more likely to be spotted.

3. Fit an alarm

A noisy alarm won’t necessarily stop a criminal from forcing entry to your business premises but it can help to reduce the amount of time they spend in there before anyone is alerted. On average criminals can easily complete a successful smash-and-grab robbery in under four minutes. Here at the Mutual we have examples of offenders who have made their way in and out of a shop in under two minutes and taken thousands of pounds worth of stock in the process – but the loss could have been far greater if there had been no alarm to put pressure on them to escape the scene as quickly as possible.

4. Use roller shutters and bollards

Ram raids are a growing problem, with thieves ploughing their way into shop premises using a variety of stolen vehicles from mopeds and cars to heavy-duty trucks and bulldozers. With average ram-raid claims in excess of £20,000 for the structural damage alone, such events can be costly. Roller shutters and bollards can help to protect your shop front from ram-raid incidents, both by deterring criminals completely or by slowing down their efforts. In the last quarter we dealt with three major ram-raid claims all with significant structural damage, but none of the perpetrators actually made it into the premises to get their hands on the high-value stock they were after.

5. Keep it locked

In 2020, the majority of theft claims we dealt with at The Retail Mutual involved high-value stock such as tobacco and spirits, which are easy to sell on to unscrupulous buyers.

If you have high-value stock on your premises, keep it in lockable display units on your shop floor to make it more difficult for thieves to access and don’t leave it on display in your shop window overnight. Be sure to keep stock rooms, back doors and windows locked at all times when not in use, and never leave keys on your premises overnight.

6. Keep it clean

Trim any hedges or bushes that could obscure the front of your shop or reduce CCTV visibility, and keep your shop looking clean and respectable to discourage loitering or other criminal activity. Keep your bin areas as tidy as possible and don’t overload them. It is not unknown for us to deal with claims from Members whose bin areas have been set alight either accidentally or by arsonists. Such fires can – and have – easily spread into the shop itself causing major damage.

7. Communicate

Communicate with other business owners to share information about criminal activities that could affect your business and the local community. Messaging apps like Whatsapp can make it easier to share information quickly and efficiently.

It is also important to communicate with your staff and give them suitable training in how to deal with suspicious or criminal activity. Knowing how to recognise the signs of a potential crime and raise the alarm can help to prevent it from happening. And if they are unfortunate enough to be the victims of crime, it is important that they know how to handle the situation. Complying with whatever they are asked to do is the best way to stay safe and diffuse tension, whilst at the same time noting any distinctive features about the perpetrators like hair colour, scars or tattoos, which could help the police to identify them afterwards.

Sometimes crime is inevitable but implementing these seven steps can help to slow criminals down or even stop them in their tracks before they target your business.

*Source BRC 2020

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