07 September 2023

Shoplifters in the UK are becoming increasingly "emboldened" and appear to be operating under more organised and coordinated efforts, often orchestrated by organised criminal groups. These groups steal to order, fuelling a growing black-market trade in various goods, from cheese and meat to luxury items. Retail experts have expressed concern over the rise of these "grab-and-go" raids and their impact on businesses.

Bira CEO Andrew Goodacre said, "In the past, shop theft has been dominated by people who have probably got unfortunately chaotic lives, some sort of dependency on drugs and alcohol, and shoplifting has been a way of sourcing that addiction."

"But what we're seeing now is a more organised approach. Maybe it's the cost-of-living crisis, that has created a black market that has suddenly become more lucrative than it was previously. But I think there seems to be a more organised approach to some of the thefts that are taking place," he added.

He said it appeared county lines gangs had been attracted to shoplifting: "I was in a small town in Devon recently and they had been hit by a gang from the outside the area who had come in a stolen car, filled up the car, didn't pay for the petrol, then went around and stole from various shops and disappeared again. All very quick, all very professional in a way, all very organised and certainly not from the area."

"The county lines element to this is fairly new, but we think it certainly exists and it's simply because the market must be there to make it more attractive for them, to be this organised," added Mr. Goodacre.

He said there appeared to be a thriving black market in even basic items such as cheese and meat and retailers were being forced to tag such items, although this only alerted them to theft and did not prevent it happening.

A video doing the rounds on social media this week showed four men—wearing COVID-19 style face masks but otherwise not trying to hide their identity—grabbing piles of clothes from a sports shop in St Albans, Hertfordshire, on Tuesday and brazenly walking out with them, brushing off the protestations of shop assistants.

Mr. Goodacre said while the managers of a Tesco Express or a Sainsbury's Local hit by shoplifters were unlikely to challenge shoplifters, that may not be the case for an independent retailer.