- M&S chairman Archie Norman said his shops aren’t as ‘attractive’ to criminals
- But he says well-off shoppers simply walk off with items when scanners fail
Temperamental self-service tills are leading to a rise of middle-class shoplifters who are walking out of stores without paying and thinking ‘it’s not my fault, I’m owed it’, a retail boss has claimed.
M&S chairman Archie Norman said that while shoplifting is on the rise across the country, his shops aren’t ‘attractive’ to criminal gangs because it doesn’t sell as many branded products as its rivals.
Instead, his problem is that more affluent shoppers are simply walking out without paying for items when the self-service tills fail to register the barcodes.
He said these customers think ‘it’s not my fault, I’m owed it’ because they frequently shop at the luxury chain.
Commenting on the increase in shoplifting, Mr Norman – who is a former Conservative MP – added that it’s ‘too easy’ to just chalk it up to the cost of living crisis.
This comes as recent figures show shoplifting in Britain has surged by 25 per cent in a year – with 365,164 incidents being logged by police in England and Wales.
Recently the ‘Northern Waitrose‘ chain Booths announced it’s scrapping self-service tills but other supermarkets are yet to follow suit.
Speaking to The Telegraph, he said: ‘Nobody quite understands why this has happened, but shoplifting has become a global problem. We’re seeing this rise.
‘It’s too easy to say it’s a cost of living problem. Some of this shoplifting is gangs. Then you get the middle class.
‘With the reduction of service you get in a lot of shops, a lot of people think: ‘This didn’t scan properly, or it’s very difficult to scan these things through and I shop here all the time. It’s not my fault, I’m owed it.’
He said M&S stores aren’t ‘as attractive’ to criminals who prefer to steal branded products to sell on because M&S sells more own-brand products.
Many supermarkets have introduced additional measures to tackling thiefs, such as more security staff and cameras. Co-op even introduced a range of dummy products that shoppers have to take to the till to swap for the real item.
The chain recorded a 35 per cent increase in shoplifting in the first six months of this year.
Mr Norman said M&S was not taking this approach, saying adding barriers and more cameras would make shops more like ‘prison camps’.
He added: ‘Our approach is to be open and welcome. We do little things like make sure the steak is positioned in the right place so people can keep an eye on it.’
In contrast to Booths axing self-checkout tills, M&S has vowed to introduce more of them in a bid to cut costs.
The retailer revealed it had added 800 self-checkout tills to stores over the past year in an attempt to save £150million.
The British Independent Retailers Association said there could be a ‘reality check with the current level of retail theft and self-service tills becoming an expensive risk’ now that Booths is leading the way with more ‘personal’ service.
Rishi Sunak last month pledged to crack down on the scourge – but in a contradictory move this week Justice Secretary Alex Chalk revealed he will change the law to limit short prison terms. This is likely to lead to thousands of shoplifters and thieves dodging jail.
Graham Wynn of the British Retail Consortium said: ‘Retail crime has been getting increasingly worse, with thieves becoming bolder and more aggressive. These incidents are very often the trigger to violent and abusive incidents against workers.
‘It also costs retailers £953million a year – money that would be better spent on reducing prices. We need the police to give retail crime greater prioritisation.’
Labour Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said the figures were an ‘indictment of 13 years of Conservative failure on law and order’.
Ten grocers and retailers including John Lewis, Co-op, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Next are now providing £600,000 to fund a new police crackdown on shop theft.
The scheme, dubbed ‘Project Pegasus’, will see officers run CCTV footage of shoplifters through a national database which uses facial recognition technology.
Police chiefs say this will give them a better picture of where shoplifting gangs operate and which shops they are targeting.
But retailers have said some staff are hesitant to call the police out to retail crime incidents due to a lack of proactiveness in the past, creating a vicious cycle.
Big brands have been forced to invest millions into increasing their use of CCTV and giving staff body cameras to wear.
Asda chairman Lord Rose has also complained that shoplifting had effectively been decriminalised.
‘Theft is a big issue. It has become decriminalised. It has become minimised.’
He added: ‘It’s actually just not seen as a crime anymore. We’ve become risk averse.’
Iceland executive chairman Richard Walker said his company is spending ‘more than ever’ on security, yet ‘serious incidents have never been higher’.
Writing on social media site X, formerly known as Twitter, he said: ‘This is a matter of staff safety: the govt urgently need to review police funding & resources, but also the powers that our security officers have.’