Managing retail crime and Covid 19

Published: 27th May 2020

Managing retail crime is always a challenge.  Now or course, employers and staff must also consider the covid risks alongside these other challenges.

Of course, you should be aware of, and always follow Government advice.  In this article, we aim to add to that advice and provide practical advice for employees and employers working in the retail sector.  Our advice is designed to help you consider and develop your risk assessment.  This is so that you can introduce appropriate response to manage both the incident and the risks associated with covid 19.

Our tips in this article are designed to be read in conjunction with our article ‘Preparing to work with covid as a retailer‘ and so, we won’t be repeating all of the advice posted in that one.

Without doubt, some people will inevitably try to take advantage of the current situation to commit retail crime.  Crimes such as internal or external theft, robbery, assault, of damage.  The person committing the crime might already be suffering from the virus.  Alternatively, they might threaten that they have the virus if you challenge them.  Wherever the threat comes from, it is important that retailers and employees working in the retail sector consider the risks and what they are doing to reduce and manage them.

Let’s look at what we can do.

Managing out crime

Firstly, retailers should consider how they intend to offer goods or services now.  Before covid, the generally accepted way of operating encouraged customers to browse, touch, handle, select, and try on goods before buying.  Now of course, this increases the risk of passing on the virus to others through contaminating stock.  That’s a significant risk to staff and customers!  Our article ‘Preparing to work with covid as a retailer‘ gives general advice around this.  By changing the way we offer goods and services, we now have the opportunity for reducing and managing retail crime within the sector.  Importantly, without offending customers – in fact customers will see that you are making efforts to protect them!

Secondly, for retailers with customer fitting rooms.  Do you intend to allow customers to continue using these?  If so, then please read our article ‘Preparing to work with covid as a retailer’   This outlines important considerations you need to think through.  If however; you are going to take fitting rooms out of commission, this removes some of the opportunity for de-tagging and concealment theft.

Third, customer toilets.  These are another place where someone can take goods, de-tag and conceal them.  As these require more regularly cleaned and serviced for safety, is now the time to restrict access.  Key or pass code entry systems to toilets provide a dual opportunity – better and safer retail covid risk management of an area and, another chance to reduce the opportunity for criminal activity.

Fourth – target hardening.  We all know that high value, easily concealed, easily disposable goods and those nearest exits are vulnerable.  Is now the time to re-evaluate where you put vulnerable stock?  Does this need to be near exits and away from till points?

Reducing risks in confronting

We know that some retailers in managing retail crime, rightly challenge people who are stealing, committing crimes or being anti social on their premises.  We should not be put off doing so just by the covid threat.  Clearly, every situation has to be approached professionally, and assessed for safety.  No-one should feel that they have to confront a challenging situation if it puts them at risk.  Our advice if faced with a risk is always, ‘safety fist’.  Step back and assess what you are dealing with.  Get help if necessary and choose the safest option each and every time.  It is much better to be a witness than a victim.

Depending on the crime being witnessed, we might decide to take different approaches.  We recognise that some retailers will quite rightly challenge inappropriate or criminal behaviour and, what’s more some staff are required to as part of their role.  However; more serious crimes threatening a serious persona risk should be approached with extreme caution.  So, lets look at all of this….

Generally, if faced with a robbery, do not try and take on the individual concerned.  Do as instructed and let them go.  Try to remain calm and observe as much as you can.  Report it immediately trying to note which way they went, what for of transport they had and of course, as much of a description as you can.

Thefts and damage –

For those operating an arrest/detain policy

  • In managing retail crime, if you operate a policy of arrest (or detaining) shoplifters and others, you should review this.  The issues you now face include;
    • Arrest policy – are you expecting staff to physically restrain shoplifters and others?  If so, is this really necessary?  If you expect your staff to detain people, you must review and re-circulate your policy and risk assessment to everyone in your team.  Elements you need to review and, your staff need guidance on include:


      • How staff protect themselves with this added threat – remember –

The Hierarchy of Control and managing retail crime

Image result for hierarchy of control

There are many examples of controls you could consider – the ones we use as examples are simply pointers to guide you.

Eliminate the hazard – (stopping arrests would do this) but, if this is not an option for you, you MUST consider the alternatives.  Are there other things that you can eliminate?  Examples might be

  • Limiting staff in the area
  • Walking the person to a detention area through a monitored but less densely populated area as normal
  • Keeping the same teams together throughout the day/week

Substitution – can you substitute some activities for safer ones.  For example

  • Your holding room – is there a safer, more ventilated place?  Is this area also used for other activities?  If so now might be a good time to relocate those to some other area
  • Goods – instead of seizing the stolen goods and putting them back into stock for sale once you have dealt with the issue, you should isolate the goods for a period to ensure that nothing can be transmitted to others who handle them
  • Change your process – instead of calling police, consider alternatives such as civil loss recovery schemes

Engineering controls – consider physical changes you might

  • Erect clear perspex screens in holding rooms?
  • Have hand washing and hand sanitising products readily available

 Administrative controls

  • Staff training.  Are they trained in conflict management and physical interventions.  Is this training up to date and are the staff competent?
  • Are your staffing and supervision levels appropriate?
  • Teams.  Can you keep the same people together in the same teams?
  • If you are using external security contractors, have you confirmed their policies and do they fit with your expectations?
  • Once a person is detained, limit the number of staff who are exposed to them to just those who need to be present
  • Police response – has this changed and what do they expect.  Talk to your local team leader and find out so you know what to expect.
  • Cleaning areas before and after use
  • Storage and isolation of recovered property and evidence.  You should not be putting recovered goods back on display immediately – they need to be stored to any virus present isn’t transferred to others
  • Staff clothing and changing facilities.  If staff are expected to detain people who may have the virus, you need to consider how they change out of potentially contaminated clothing when necessary and, how that clothing is dealt with – simple bagging and machine washing would appear to be sufficient but this should be considered
  • Briefing and guidance – ensure your teams know
    • your expectations
    • what they should and should not do to ensure their safety and that of others
    • When and how they can withdraw should they need to
    • Consider cleaning of areas and surfaces afterward each incident has been dealt with
    • What to do after exposure to a covid risk.  As an absolute minimum, they must take account of personal hygiene and report and document the incident fully.
  • Personal Protective Equipment – (PPE).

You have a responsibility to ensure that staff have access to personal protective equipment if its use is necessary and, that it is fit for purpose.  PPE that obviously springs to mind are gloves and face masks.

  • There are many examples of face mask available and you should research for the type that is sufficient for the role you will ask staff to do.
  • Gloves.  Again there are many types of glove available.  You should consider allergies, staff and/or customers might be allergic to rubber so rubber based gloves should be avoided.
  • Do your staff have uniform?  Not normally considered PPE but, if they do then you should consider whether they have facility to change out of this before leaving the premises and, how it is stored for cleaning.

For those who don’t operate an arrest/detain policy

If you decide on operating a policy of ‘no arrests or detentions’ then you have eliminated much of the risk to staff and customers.  You do need to consider your position though as you don’t want to have everyone think you are a soft target.

A policy of ‘challenging’ may be appropriate instead.  This is where you, or your staff give the individual the opportunity to leave the goods they have stolen and go.

This isn’t to say you are going to do nothing – you can still report this to police and, if you have CCTV evidence or supporting evidence from your colleagues, police can follow up and investigate if you want them to.  You will still need to consider storing the goods somewhere and not putting them back on display.

You should still carry out a risk assessment to include the potential retail covid risk management threat.  This should follow the Hierarchy of control as outlined above and, must be carried out in consultation with your staff.

If you want more advice on any aspect of this, please contact us




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