Fighting crime with dummy display packaging

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How far should retailers go to deter theft and protect their products?

British consumer cooperative, Co-op, has announced recently that it is extending its trial of anti-theft ‘dummy display packaging’ for targeted products on its shelves, to deter rising levels of crime driven by ‘prolific and persistent offenders and local organised criminal gangs,’ it says.

The empty, dummy packaging will be used across higher value products on its shelves frequently targeted by criminals for re-sale. These high-value products include: coffee; washing powder and laundry gel. How it works is that shoppers simply take the dummy display case to the till, where it can be exchanged for the real product.

Co-op says it has previously used the anti-theft packaging in a limited number of stores, and expects it to ‘continue to become a more familiar feature in retailing.’

Last month, Co-op revealed it had seen record levels of crime, shoplifting and anti-social behaviour, with almost 1,000 incidents each day in the six months to June 2023; a 35 per cent year-on-year increase. Industry reports* show that almost two-thirds (63 per cent) of crime is driven by repeat and prolific offenders, with drug or alcohol addictions and, local organised criminal gangs, among the main drivers of offending.

Co-op warned that this level of out-of-control crime is ‘unsustainable’ and could even see some communities become a no-go area for local stores, with many police forces not prioritising retail crime. A freedom of information (FOI) request revealed on average, 71 per cent of serious retail crime is not responded to by police, and Co-op is calling on all police forces and crime commissioners to target prolific offenders and local organised criminal gangs to reverse the existing environment where they operate without fear of being caught or charged.

Kate Graham, director of operations at Co-op, said: “Crime in many communities is increasing, and it is known that repeat and prolific offenders and, local organised criminal gangs are driving serious incidents of brazen and violent theft in stores.

“It is an ongoing challenge for all retailers, and often a flashpoint for attacks and abuse towards our colleagues. Co-op continues to invest significantly in keeping colleagues and stores safe. This includes extending our use of dummy display cases to deter the incidents of ‘bulk-shoplifting’ or, ‘looting’, as it has been described, where criminals sweep products off shelves for re-sale.

“While we are doing all we can, we also need the police to play their part as too often, Forces fail to respond to desperate calls by our store teams and criminals operate in communities without any fear of consequences.”

Co-op has invested more than £200m in recent years, in colleague and community safety to counter criminal behaviour – per store, this equates to four times the average convenience sector spend on security and safety measures.

What is not stated in by the Co-op is how much the retailer will be spending to produce the dummy packaging.

Likewise, will this extra layer of time at the checkout deter customers from wanting to shop there at all? I don’t know how it will work with self-checkout, either.

It sounds as though Co-op is investing in as many preventative measures as it can, but whether time will tell if they are as successful as it hopes.

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