Saturday, April 13, 2024

Counting the health and safety cost of retail crime

Phil Thomson

“Tasers, knives, and broken bottles” are not weapons you would traditionally associate with everyday shoplifting. But incredulously, these words were shared during a recent discussion between Australian retailers on retail crime and the growing use of weapons.

By Auror Co-Founder and Co-CEO Phil Thomson. 

This is the reality retail workers now face. It’s not just providing great customer service, stocking shelves, and selling goods, they now have to contend with criminal offending, actual or threatened violence, and an emotional rollercoaster daily.

Understanding the Work Health and Safety (WHS) risks faced by retail workers and customers and ensuring the right controls and processes are in place to minimise them, is a core responsibility for retail directors and executives. But many executives and board members may not appreciate the outsized impact crime is having on their business, its profits, and most importantly the safety of their – employees and customers.

While the frequency of serious workplace injuries in Australia has fallen by 29% since the introduction of the Safe Work Australia Act and the model WHS laws, retailers – who make up 8% of all serious workplace injuries costing Australia approximately $5B – are still not seeing the same reductions in incidents as other industries.

One major factor that disproportionately impacts retail WHS is the crime, violence, and aggression in stores, often linked to shoplifting, theft, and fraud. 

Increasing violence and aggression

What should be concerning for retailers is that the amount of aggression shown by offenders is increasing and went up 37% in the first half of 2020. In previous years, we saw threatening behaviours being demonstrated by one in 10 offenders. However, since the beginning of 2020, this has increased to almost one in five. This increase is due in part to offenders taking advantage of WHS legislation and processes as they know they won’t be stopped if they show aggression or use a weapon.

With retail crime trends around the world showing more organised offending, higher aggression, and weapon usage, the risks driven by crime are increasing. This is being played out on a daily basis with large US retailers, such as Walgreens, shutting down stores due to the impact of crime.

This is likely to increase the serious and lost-time injuries of employees through both physical assaults, as well as mental health issues brought on by dealing with aggressive or violent customers.

Psychological safety

While it’s often easier to focus on the physical safety of employees, it is vital not to overlook employees’ psychological safety. Under WHS laws, directors must be careful that any perception by the team that their safety is unimportant may also lead to directors’ liability and also significant reputational damage.

If an employee comes to work every day fearing that their next interaction with a customer or shoplifter will be a violent one, that retailer is not providing a safe working environment. But added to this is often the psychological pressure placed on employees to “stop the bad guys”. This can lead to team members unintentionally creating conflict or even chasing alleged offenders and putting themselves in harm’s way. But senior management previously haven’t had systems, processes, and technology in place to:

  • Understand the levels of crime and aggression occurring in stores;
  • Get information from store teams about the prolific and aggressive offenders;
  • Enable employees to take appropriate action while keeping them safe; or
  • Prevent conflict and crime before it escalates.

Using data and intelligence to understand the problem

Many retailers are now investing in retail crime intelligence software to empower employees to capture intelligence and provide critical information to senior management to make the right calls on employee and customer safety.

For those retailers that have access to these new insights, it is having a significant impact on their people, customers, and profits. One particular insight that is changing strategies is the level of organised retail crime in Australia. Retailers are seeing that 10% of offenders are responsible for 60% of the loss, and these offenders are commonly using aggression as a tactic. With these insights, one supermarket retailer was able to achieve double-digit reductions in its loss and had a historic low of only six serious incidents across 200 stores in a 16-month period. This goes to show it’s possible to move the dial on WHS statistics and reduce workplace injuries.

The true cost

Crime is often seen as a financial problem that is part of running a retail business (costing ~1% of revenues). But with the potential for jail sentences and significant personal fines, directors and executives within the retail sector should be asking their leadership teams if they have the right systems and technology in place to understand the true impacts of crime on keeping their employees and customers safe. Let’s ensure that the use of tasers, knives, or worse, doesn’t become normalised as part of retailing in Australia.


About Phil Thomson

Phil Thomson is the Co-Founder and Co-CEO of leading crime intelligence software company, Auror. Prior to co-founding Auror in 2013, Phil was a commercial and privacy lawyer. After realising the scale and impact of shoplifting globally, Auror was founded to help retailers protect their profits, people, and property from crime

About Auror
Auror is Australia and New Zealand’s leading Retail Crime Intelligence platform that helps report, solve, and prevent crime in stores. Founded in 2013, Auror’s mission is to empower retailers with the intelligence and tools they need to stop crime, for good. Auror is the leading retail crime intelligence software used by retailers across Australia and the world to report, solve, and prevent organised offending and retail crime.

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