British retailers are winning the battle against shoplifters but are still being hit by staff theft, a report has suggested.
Bonuses and incentives are designed to cut employee theft
The Centre for Retail Research said the UK was one of the worst countries in Europe for stealing by employees, costing employers £1.5bn last year.
The UK was second behind Iceland in a study of employee theft in 25 nations.
Despite the continuing problem, overall losses through theft, fraud, damage and error fell 13% in the UK during 2004.
The research looked at trends in retail theft across 23 Europen countries.
The study of 423 retailers showed most were planning to get tough with internal crime, including more vetting of staff as well as bonuses and incentives to try to head off any threat of theft.
Losses due to theft form part of what is known in the retail jargon as "shrinkage."
The survey found that 29% of shrinkage was due to staff stealing from their employers, up from 28% in 2003.
Despite this, Nick James, crime policy officer of the British Retail Consortium, said most employees were entirely honest.
"It is due to a very small number of dishonest staff who may be stealing for extended periods of time and that may be very hard to detect," he said.
Professor Martin Gill, a criminologist at Leicester University, has studied theft from shops and he says there are several circumstances that lead to employees doing it.
"When staff feel marginalised and not attached to the organisation, when they have some sort of gripe about the way they've been treated, the culture of the organisation and just having the opportunity to steal things," he said.
Items most likely to be stolen from UK retailers include designer and leather goods, perfumes, trainers, CDs, jewellery, videos, disposable razors and vitamins.
According to Professor Gill, there is a very simple reason for these items being popular with thieves - they can be turned into cash quickly.
"They have good second hand market value. Thieves tell me they are very easy to sell on quickly, to people in pubs, and to people they know."
The retailers who were surveyed account for 20% of European retail trade.
According to their replies, total shrinkage fell from 1.37% of turnover to 1.34%.
Overall they reckoned that 48% of their shrinkage was still being caused by customers.
And 16% was due to things like errors, process failures and pricing mistakes.