Shoplifting Reaches “Epidemic” Levels, John Lewis CEO Calls for Urgent Action.

Dame Sharon White Urges Royal Commission and New Laws to Address the Growing Crisis

Dame Sharon White, the CEO of John Lewis and chairwoman of the John Lewis Partnership, has sounded the alarm, declaring that shoplifting in the UK has spiraled into an “epidemic.” With reported offences doubling over the past year, she warns that this trend not only poses a significant financial burden on retailers but also jeopardizes the safety of staff and customers. In response, Dame Sharon has called for the establishment of a royal commission to tackle the mounting problems plaguing high streets and the implementation of new laws to safeguard retail workers from abuse and attacks.

Dame Sharon emphasized that shoplifting is not merely a financial loss for retailers but also a social issue that adversely impacts the quality of life in communities across the UK. She expressed concern that some areas have transformed into “shells of their former selves” due to violent incidents and repeat offenders wreaking havoc in shops.

Speaking on the BBC’s Today programme, Dame Sharon recounted witnessing individuals brazenly “swiping a whole shelf of stuff,” including fresh meat, milk, and cheese, from Waitrose stores multiple times a day. While some items have been equipped with security tags as a deterrent, they have proven insufficient to curtail the problem.

Shockingly, reported incidents have not always received a timely response from the police, despite some involving physical assaults or threats with weapons. Dame Sharon stressed that it is unacceptable for shop workers, who were celebrated as national heroes during the pandemic, to endure such abuse and attacks.

According to the British Retail Consortium (BRC), retail theft across the sector in England and Wales surged by 26% in 2022, totaling eight million incidents. The financial toll of these thefts on retailers was estimated at nearly £1 billion in the 2021 financial year, funds that could have otherwise been allocated to reducing prices and enhancing the customer experience.

Notably, major retailers like Tesco, Co-op, and Iceland have echoed their concerns regarding the escalating threat of shoplifting and its impact on both their employees and customers. Consequently, they have escalated investments in security measures, including CCTV cameras, body cameras, facial recognition technology, and even dummy products to deter thieves.

In a collaborative effort to combat the issue, John Lewis is among ten of the UK’s largest retailers that have pledged funding for Project Pegasus—a police operation aimed at cracking down on shoplifting. The operation will leverage CCTV footage and data provided by participating retailers to gain insight into the operations of shoplifters and identify repeat offenders.

Dame Sharon underscored the need for a comprehensive strategy to combat organized criminal gangs, which are primarily behind most shoplifting cases. She also advocated for the extension of Scottish legislation that criminalizes the abuse of retail workers across the UK and called for greater support for vulnerable individuals who resort to theft out of desperation.

As a gesture of goodwill and cooperation with law enforcement, Waitrose and John Lewis have started offering free hot beverages to on-duty police officers. Additionally, police personnel will have access to staff cafeterias at John Lewis locations for breaks and will be eligible for discounted meals.

Dame Sharon’s call for action extends further, as she emphasized the necessity of a royal commission to provide comprehensive support for retailers and revitalize high streets. She argued for a holistic approach to address high street challenges, rather than investigating individual issues in isolation, such as taxation, crime, planning, housing, and environmental policy. High streets, she stressed, are crucial for social cohesion and economic recovery.

The escalating issue of shoplifting requires urgent attention and collaborative efforts to protect retailers, employees, and communities from its detrimental effects.





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