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Co-op warns shop crime has ‘consequences’ as incidents hit record high

The Co-op saw the highest ever levels of shoplifting last year, with more than 100 shop workers facing abuse from criminals every day, the retailer has revealed.

The group revealed the scale of the issue in its annual report, which also showed a slump in its yearly profit after selling its petrol stations to Asda.

Co-op said the level of retail crime incidents soared by 44% in 2023 compared with 2022.

It recorded 336,270 incidents of shoplifting and anti-social behaviour at its food shops during the year, which is equivalent to 1,000 cases per day.

Matt Hood, Co-op’s managing director of food retail, said repeat prolific offenders and organised criminal gangs are driving the spike in shop crime.

He told the PA news agency: “Despite the extensive measures and the £200 million we have spent putting things in place to protect our colleagues, the reality is that every day four of our colleagues will be attacked and up to a further 116 will be seriously abused.”

The group has invested in body cameras for staff and CCTV, and has also been trialling security measures including secure kiosks, locked doors on high-value products, dummy packaging, and automated CCTV.

“The Retail Crime Action Plan that was announced last year by the Government with an intention to ensure police attendance at all incidents was welcomed by us,” Mr Hood said.

“I’m hesitant when I say that because we have to now see it in action in our stores, so that the desperate calls from frontline colleagues to the police are responded to, and criminals do start to realise there are real consequences to their actions of shoplifting in our shops.”

Earlier this year, the Co-op found that police failed to attend in 79% of incidents where a criminal had been detained.

But new data showed signs of an improvement in police response rates since the introduction of the Government’s retail plan.

Nevertheless, three in five detained criminals are still walking away, which the group said continues to send a message that shoplifting is a crime without consequences.

Co-op has been vocal in calling for more action in the UK as it said the vast majority of offenders get away, including urging police forces to take the crime more seriously and tackle prolific offenders.

Shoplifting offences recorded by police in England and Wales rose to the highest level in 20 years in the year to September, data from the Office for National Statistics recently showed.

The number of offences jumped by nearly a third compared with the previous year, to more than 400,000 in total.

Separate analysis from the British Retail Consortium found that violence and abuse against shop workers spiked last year with about 1,300 incidents a day across the sector, ranging from verbal abuse to threats with weapons.

Meanwhile, the retail-to-funerals business revealed its pre-tax profit fell by £240 million to £28 million in 2023, compared with 2022.

Co-op said 2022’s profit figure was skewed by a boost from the sale of its petrol forecourts business to Asda.

The two supermarket giants reached a £600 million deal over the 132 petrol stations during the second half of the year.

A Co-op food shop
Co-op said there has been a resurgence in ‘food to go’ sales since the pandemic (Alamy/PA)

Co-op also revealed that revenues dipped to £11.3 billion in 2023, from £11.5 billion the previous year, partly driven by slipping food sales.

Stripping out the impact of selling its petrol stations, food retail sales increased 4.3% year on year, it said.

Co-op said its active members – who collectively own the business and get access to offers and discounted prices – grew to more than five million at the end of 2023.

Members accounted for 37% of all purchases in its food shops, the highest level for four years.

It came as the group invested £90 million across the year in lowering food prices and rolling out member-only pricing on everyday essentials, as consumers continued to be affected by the higher cost of living.

Mr Hood told PA that this action had led to an increase in the volume of shoppers and the number of people choosing to become members.

He also said there had been a resurgence in “food to go” sales, thanks to workers returning to city-centre offices following the Covid-19 pandemic.

Earlier this year, the group said it was targeting new convenience shops and planning to rapidly grow its membership programme as part of a new growth strategy.