New research released this week has revealed that attacks on shop workers are on the rise with two out of five now experiencing abuse from customers each week.
Staff reported being shouted at, spat on, threatened, or hit on a weekly basis in a survey of more than 1,600 staff from 200 companies by the Retail Trust charity.
Almost half (47%) said they now feel unsafe at work as the retail crime epidemic continues.
66% said they feel anxious or stressed about going to work and 42% are considering quitting their jobs or leaving retail.
When considering the reasons behind the rise in retail crime, over half (56%) said the rising cost of living was to blame while 64% said confronting a shoplifter had caused abuse.
Two thirds want stricter penalties for customers who abuse shop staff and a third believe police should be taking more action.
Last month, the government unveiled a plan that will see a new Organised Retail Crime capability formed within the Operation Opal unit, funded by Project Pegasus – a partnership between 13 retailers including John Lewis, Co-op, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose
This will see a new dedicated intelligence team created, with retailers trained on what information and intelligence to share with policing.
Facial recognition software will also be used across the public and private sectors.
However, Co-op warned that actions must speak louder than words for the retail crime epidemic to end.
Separately, the Co-op said it recorded 300,000 incidents of shoplifting, abuse, violence and anti-social behaviour so far this year – an increase of more than 40% on last year.
The retailer noted more than 1,100 physical assaults on its store workers and more than 36,000 instances of anti-social behaviour and abuse, as it called for police to do more to tackle violence in shops.
Managing director Matt Hood said: “We urgently need to see it in action in our stores, so the desperate calls to the police from my front line colleagues are responded to”.
Co-op director of public affairs Paul Gerrard added: “Crime in many communities is increasing, and it is known that repeat and prolific offenders and local organised criminal gangs are driving serious incidents of brazen and violent theft in stores.
“Co-op continues to invest significantly in keeping colleagues and stores safe, as we know this isn’t a victimless crime, as my store colleagues who have been verbally abused and had knives and syringes pulled on them can vouch for.
“Respecting the shop workers who are just doing their job, serving our communities every day, is a simple but extremely important common courtesy.”
Chris Brook Carter, chief executive of the Retail Trust said the situation was ‘simply unacceptable’.
He said: “Thousands of shop workers are contacting us to say they now fear for their safety.”
“Every day we’re hearing from people who have been shouted at, spat on, threatened or hit at work, sometimes several times a week, so we’re very concerned. One person told us they were hit around the head by a shoplifter with a metal basket, another was knocked out cold by an angry customer, and this is on top of the vile insults and threats handed out on an all-too-regular basis.
“As a country and a society, we must get better at bringing an end to this terrible behaviour, making sure every incident is recorded and acted upon, and above all, ensuring that our colleagues across the country get the protection and support they need.
“Our message at the Retail Trust is clear. Abuse is never part of anyone’s job and if you’re a retail worker encountering abuse, threats or violence, please do report this to your manager and call the Retail Trust’s wellbeing helpline if you need any support dealing with your experiences.”