An average of 115 retail employees were attacked at work every day last year, with the use of knives against them of “significant concern”, according to new figures.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) said the numbers “laid bare the human cost” of criminality in the sector.
Retailers spent a “staggering” £1.9 billion on crime prevention and losses from crime to the industry, up 12% on the previous year and the equivalent of around 20% of the sector’s estimated profits, the BRC’s annual survey suggested.
More than £700 million was lost to customer theft alone, a rise of 31% on 2017.
Retailers are spending 17% more on cyber security than last year at £162 million, and nearly 80% of the retailers surveyed reported an increase in the number of cyber attacks they had seen.
Approximately 70% of respondents described the police response to retail crime as poor or very poor.
While opinions suggested the police response was generally better for violent incidents compared to customer theft or fraud, only 20% of respondents considered the response good or excellent.
BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said: “Violence against employees remains one of the most pressing issues retailers face, yet once again we have seen an increase in the overall number of incidents.
“Such crimes harm not just hard-working employees, but also their families and communities.
“No-one should go to work fearing threats and abuse.
“The spiralling cost of retail crime – both in losses and the cost of prevention – are a huge burden to a retail sector that is already weighed down by the twin challenges of skyrocketing business costs and Brexit uncertainty.
“We hope this report will act as a catalyst for Police and Crime Commissioners around the country to take action.
“Retail crime should be explicitly addressed by Police and Crime Plans.
“Furthermore, Parliament must play its part in stemming this tide of crime by creating a specific criminal offence to protect retail employees from assault at work, as has been done for emergency workers.”
Paddy Lillis, general secretary at the Usdaw union, said: “Life on the frontline of retail can be pretty tough for many shopworkers and there is still a lot to do to help protect them.
“We launched our Freedom From Fear Campaign in the face of growing concerns amongst retail staff about violence, threats and abuse.
“It is time for the Government to act by providing stiffer penalties for those who assault workers; a simple standalone offence that is widely recognised and understood by the public, police, Crown Prosecution Service, the judiciary and most importantly criminals.”