Shopping Centre

Trend spotters

Published:  04 December, 2008

Croydon in south London is officially the worst location for stock loss or 'shrinkage' caused by theft, according to the Retail Loss Prevention Fashion Forum.

Fashion is high on the shopping list of fraudsters who cost the UK economy £3 billion in 2007, according to the respected Global Retail Theft Barometer compiled by Professor Joshua Bamfield of the Centre for Retail Research.

Only Oxford Street in London's West End came higher than the South London borough in aggregate, although Croydon beat Britain's premier shopping street for the number of times it appeared in the lists of 'hot' towns - Croydon made an appearance on retailer's lists of high-risk locations more than any other place in the UK - according to figures compiled by the Fashion Forum.

Croydon, focused around the Whitgift Centre area of the town, recorded more 'off the peg' stock loss, beating a number of major cities including Birmingham, Cardiff, Dublin, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester.

The forum, which comprises heads of loss prevention for most of the leading clothes brands on the high street, combined its data for 230 city and town centres, including those in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, during a three-month period.

Each member fed its own 'shrink' data to independent loss prevention specialists ORIS, where the results were analysed to produce the league table representing Britain's 'fraudscape'. The initiative - which also put Canterbury in Kent as the lowest fraud spot in the survey - is designed to provide joint evidence to the affected police forces in order to prioritise officer deployment.

It is also aimed at helping the criminal justice system to take business crime more seriously as part of the Fashion Forum's pooling of best practice intelligence.

A similar initiative is being examined by new Mayor of London Boris Johnson, who is already talking to senior police officers about US-style 'crime mapping' in order to deploy London officers more effectively. The findings of the ORIS study are to be sent to Johnson after initial contact was made with his office.

Andrew Wood, managing director of the ORIS Group, employed as a trusted broker to analyse sensitive retailer figures, says: "The data came in from the fashion retailers in different formats reflecting the different reporting procedures of each business. However, there was a consistency in the findings when we analysed the data and apportioned points for crime hot spots in terms of loss and the frequency that centres appeared in the lists of hot towns. Outside Oxford Street, Croydon scored highest in both categories, while Canterbury scored lowest.

"This kind of analysis was a test to see whether a form of mapping could help retailers work together with police and town centre partnerships to prioritise officer deployment where crime is high. We now hope to discuss this in more detail with the Mayor of London who we know is sympathetic to this approach."

While this new research could help with police deployment across the country, the idea of crime partnerships and information sharing has existed for some time. "There are lots of initiatives out there," says Wood. "Some are based on town centres where the police will work hard with retailers in the town and they are successful, but that's micro management. We need something more nationwide. What would be useful is the reporting of incidents generally. In this study we recorded theft but we would like to also look at the kind of thing that goes on day in day out, such as staff abuse, violence and racial abuse. If we know what's happening, how much and when, we can take steps to deal with it.

"We work with retailers individually, such as Argos and Homebase, but we would like to be able to collate that more fully. It would help to target resources and spending so that spending is concentrated in the right areas. If you go to the police and say 'my manager in this store was verbally abused' they will say 'that's a shame', but if you say 'we have had this across 50 retailers in the town centre' it's a very different story.

"If we can identify patterns of organised crime we can get a much higher level of co-operation response because there's something more intelligent going on. It's macro instead of micro management."

In Swindon, the Swindon Crime Reduction Initiative Partnership, known as SCRIP, has been helping its members for the past 10 years to combat crimes and anti-social behaviour, and now is to be extended beyond Swindon for the first time.

SCRIP was originally set up by the town centre management team, the police and its member shops and businesses to provide its members with shared information on known criminals working in the area or individuals whose anti-social behaviour could have a negative impact on shoppers' experience.

Spearheaded in Swindon by the Swindon Town Centre Management Company, the database holds details of sightings, incidents and all local crime intelligence, which is distributed to partners from both local and national crime reduction schemes. Weekly meetings are held to discuss issues, information from which is cascaded down to members.

SCRIP also operates a radio system to help to increase awareness of criminal activity in the town and to enforce partnership exclusion schemes - for example, whereby known offenders can be excluded from all member premises.

Mark Ross, chief executive of SCRIP, says: "One problem that occurs is displacement, in that a group of troublemakers is removed from our town centre and they go elsewhere. We are now working with other areas - such as Wootton Bassett, and even as far away as Salisbury - to enlist new members of SCRIP among their retailers and businesses and so gather and share more information."

Chief Inspector Paul Mills, of Wiltshire Police, praised the plans to extend SCRIP: "The Swindon Crime Reduction Initiative Partnership has been and continues to be a key partner in the fight against retail crime," he says. "Over the last 10 years the police has worked very effectively with SCRIP, exchanging valuable information, which has helped to target persistent offenders and the damage that they cause to the local economy.

"The extension of the SCRIP scheme is a very positive step. Experience to date shows that criminals will often travel to avoid apprehension, therefore effective information exchange between different areas is absolutely essential to ensure that the police and other agencies stay one step ahead at all times."

SCRIP was strengthened last year with the introduction of the Swindon Street Team. Acting as the ambassadors for the town centre, their role is to keep a watch on what is going on, assist shoppers with queries, make people feel safe and help deal with anti-social behaviour and criminal activity. The team has no enforcement powers but can provide a vital link to the police in terms of passing information on about incidents. They are equipped with electronic notebooks, which allow them to make notes, collate information and take photos. As well as providing vital information about trouble spots and troublemakers, the software helps with any remedial action that needs to be taken.