The retail industry in the UK is facing an unprecedented challenge as shoplifting rates soar to their highest levels in two decades. With major retailers sounding the alarm and the Office for National Statistics confirming the troubling trend, it is crucial to address this growing problem head-on. This blog post will delve into the current state of retail crime, its impact on businesses and communities, and highlights options to tackle the issue effectively.

The Scale of the Problem

In 2023, police in England and Wales recorded a staggering 430,104 shoplifting offences, representing a 37% increase from the previous year. This figure marks the highest level since current recording practices began in 2003.

Several factors have contributed to the rise in shoplifting, including organised crime groups targeting retail establishments and a perceived lack of consequences for offenders. Some retailers, such as the Co-op and John Lewis, have reported record levels of retail crime, with incidents of abuse, violence, and anti-social behaviour accompanying the surge in theft. The cost to businesses is substantial, with theft losses doubling in the past year to £1.8 billion, and an additional £1.2 billion spent on anti-crime measures. The cost-of-living crisis following the COVID pandemic may also contribute to the rise in shoplifting, further complicating an already demanding situation.

The situation has left some businesses struggling to cope with the financial losses and the risks to their staff. 

Developing a Comprehensive Response

To address the shoplifting surge, a multi-faceted approach that considers the unique challenges posed by this type of crime should be considered. A comprehensive response should include, but not be limited to, the following elements, many of which are already in action:

  1. Collaboration with retailers
  2. Intelligence-led policing
  3. Community engagement
  4. Offender management
  5. Technological solutions
  6. Designing out crime
  7. Stricter penalties
  8. Increased police presence
  9. Specialised task forces

Project Pegasus: A Promising Example 

Launched in 2023, Project Pegasus is a collaborative initiative between retailers and police that aims to combat shoplifting using advanced technology. Organisations have joined forces to fund a specialist police team dedicated to building intelligence on organised retail crime gangs. This team, part of Opal (the national police intelligence unit for serious organised acquisitive crime), analyses shoplifting patterns and identifies prolific offenders. By pooling resources and expertise, Project Pegasus represents a promising step towards tackling the retail crime surge.


The soaring shoplifting rates in the UK present a significant challenge for police and retailers alike. Acknowledging the scale of the problem and implementing comprehensive strategies and innovative solutions focused on collaboration, technology, and enforcement is crucial.

What success stories and examples of these elements do you have? What do you think is the answer? What are the challenges?