Unprecedented Rise in Retail Unknown Loss

UK Retail Insights: Unprecedented Rise in Unknown Loss (Shrink)

In a recent benchmarking research session convened by ECR Retail Loss, key finance and loss prevention leaders from ten of the UK’s top-tier retailers came together. These retail giants, boasting a combined turnover of a staggering £192 billion, cast a spotlight on the evolving risk environment. Notably, shop theft emerged as a paramount concern.

During this enlightening session, each industry heavyweight delved into anonymised shrinkage rates, juxtaposing them against 2018 metrics. Integral to the session were the deep-dived insights and perspectives from these retailers, offering a lens into the driving forces behind the losses and their strategic countermeasures.

One salient discovery was the pronounced elevation in losses. When measured against pre-pandemic benchmarks from 2018, losses surged by an average of one-third. Alarmingly, for some retailers, this escalation exceeded 50%. The ensuing conversation naturally gravitated towards understanding the catalysts for this uptick. The unanimous consensus? A significant chunk of the increase stems from external theft, with every retailer concurring on the worrying observation that shoplifting incidents are on the ascent.

The underlying factors are multifaceted. Professor Beck, the esteemed academic advisor to ECR Retail Loss, highlighted ten predominant drivers that are fuelling the theft epidemic in today’s supermarkets:

  • Escalating activities of aggressive criminal factions targeting retailers, lured by perceived low risk and high rewards.
  • Economic downturns and inflation pushing individuals to pilfer essential goods.
  • The prevailing legal framework that appears to trivialise retail theft and its associated repercussions.
  • Resource constraints and case overflows plaguing police forces and the judiciary.
  • Insufficient personnel to oversee self-checkout points, presenting windows for opportunistic theft.
  • Retail strategies that advise non-confrontation with culprits, prioritising staff safety.
  • Ambiguities surrounding training, resources, and support for in-store security personnel.
  • The viral spread of retail crime episodes on social media, instigating copycat incidents.
  • Modern open-concept store architectures that inadvertently make thefts more feasible and more challenging to curb.
  • Expanding avenues for offloading stolen merchandise, particularly on digital platforms.


The dialogue further ventured into the proactive steps these retail juggernauts are taking to stem this worrying tide of losses. Their arsenal includes advanced technological deployments such as video monitoring, product tagging, secure trolley systems, and reimagined store layouts to establish “zones of control”.

ECR Retail Loss is poised to reconvene this illustrious panel in November, aiming to assess the efficacy of these measures and the trajectory of retail losses in this dynamic landscape. Stay tuned for more insights.

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