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Last Updated: Monday, 28 November 2005, 12:08 GMT
What do people shoplift?
The Magazine answers...

Winona Ryder being stopped by security guards
Actress Winona Ryder was convicted of shoplifting

More than 3.5 million people have admitted shoplifting in the past five years, according to new research. What do they take?

For some it is an addiction, for others a job or a spur-of-the-moment thing, but hundreds of thousands of Brits do it each year, according to new research.

Of those questioned, 2% said they had shoplifted by accident and had returned the goods, 6% said they had taken something by accident but had not returned it, and 1% admitted to deliberate shoplifting, equating to about 700,000 people a year.

Each took an average of 105 of goods, according to the survey commissioned by Group 4 Securicor. Supermarkets are regarded as the easiest place for shoplifting by 21% of people, followed by garden and DIY centres.

But what do they take? Top of the list are razor blades, according to the research. Followed by cosmetics, alcohol, toiletries, lingerie, CDs and DVDs.

'Gateway' crime

Professor Martin Gill, director of the University of Leicester Scarman Centre, says what people steal can depend on whether it is for personal use or to sell.

Razor blades, air fresheners, batteries, CDs, DVDs, electronic gaming and music equipment and alcohol are cited by offenders as good items to sell on, according to his research. Also cheese, meat and other foodstuffs, all of which can be exchanged for cash very quickly.

And while there is no absolute rule, those who steal to sell on are likely to steal much larger quantities of product than those stealing for themselves.

Question Mark - from original architect's doodle design for BBC TV Centre
A regular feature in the BBC News Magazine - aiming to answer some of the questions behind the headlines
"It is no surprise that razor blades are top," he says. "They are expensive, also easy to conceal and sell on. Expensive toothbrushes are another popular item."

He says the acronym CRAVED is used to explain the product characteristics most likely to influence a thief's decision about what to steal. It stands for concealable, removable, available, valued, enjoyed and disposable.

Although the most commonly stolen items are razor blades, the survey suggests that on average the value of the single most expensive item that people have stolen is 35, while 5% of people have stolen items worth more than 50.

Kevin Hawkins, the director general of the British Retail Consortium, says shoplifting remained a serious problem for retailers and society as a whole.

"Retail crime has significant demoralising effects on shop owners and their staff, especially as theft is increasingly accompanied by violence, threats and verbal abuse. Shop theft is frequently a 'gateway' to more serious offences."

Your comments:

I once had a shoplifter dressed up as a nun, she was taking packets of hair-dye off the shelves and putting them in her large 70s style fake leather holdall. Alas the store-manager wouldn't believe me until I showed him on the CCTV, by which time it was far too late! It just goes to prove that shoplifting is considered a living by some people.
Ben Mitchell, Bristol, UK

When you actually stop to think about it, crimes such as shoplifting have a much more significant day-to-day impact on most people's lives than more high-profile crimes such as terrorism. How much time do you spend worrying about locking this, alarming that and asking someone to keep an eye on something? Not to mention insurance premiums and so on. I'm not sure granny's tales about being able to leave your door open were as true as all that, but it would be great to return to that kind of level of trust...
Pete, Birmingham

Oh the shame, I have to confess... when I was a kid (9 or 10 yrs) I used to regularly nick anything up to 5p (only coppers, mind!) from me mum's purse. Then I'll call in at the village sweet-shop on the way to school, buy a few penny sweets (fruit salads, I think) and 'lift' some few more. Fudge were good; small enough to conceal, yet just enough to give myself a treat! I never got caught, but think I gave up after a couple of close scrapes. I think my Single Most Expensive Item was an ice worth about 30 or 40 pence. I can tell you, I had to work quick on that one, before the damn thing melted in my pocket!!! And was it a gateway to more serious offence? Well 12 years later I once walked out of a crowded WH-Smith and 'forgot' to pay for the magazine I was holding. I'm happy to say however, I've remained clean ever since (15 years).
Anon, in hiding...

Yes shoplifting is a huge problem, I used to be the manager of a food shop and I left because of the violence and threats that the shoplifters were using.
lucy, paisley

The razor blades are a perfect example of retail shooting its self in the foot. Blades are over prices to begin with, over a pound a blade, thus making them very fashionable and desirable, This coupled with the fact that they are a basic requirement that every body needs, makes them a perfect target. The shoplifters take them. The shops lose out and have to raise the prices even more. Thus making them an even bigger target. More get taken, the shop introduced security tags so easily removed.
James Medcalf, Leeds

When I was in junior high school to be considered one of the COOL kids you were expected to lift something from the local K Mart store. I guess I never became one of the cool kids.
Tom Fisher, Jamestown, CO, US

I work in a spar store and doe to theft we have recently had to remove all cheese, bacon and sausages from the food chillers and keep it in the back stock room until someone specifically asks for it. Coffee, toothpaste and hair gel are all kept behind the shop counter because they are frequently taken as well.
Dale Anthony, Bristol

Clearly the penalties aren't harsh enough to deter. Lock the scum up.
Tom, London,UK

Shoplifting will always flourish when there are people prepared to buy the goods. 6 for 4 razorblades in the shop or 5 for 2 packs from a bloke in a pub or dodgy car booter?. People should remember if they buy goods such as this they should think twice before bleating should they be unlucky enough to be burgled/robbed etc
Liam, Coventry

Too many people think that stealing from a business is somehow less selfish, mean or reprehensible than stealing from an individual. What they forget is that shops are people's livelihoods, major chains are by-and-large owned by investment companies (and therefore people pensions and mortgage endowments) and that the profits companies make are directly proportional to the number of staff they employ. If you value it, buy it!
Tom, London, UK

It is stealing plain and simple. I have seen people in shops pocketing items, but on finding a shop assistant their attitude is one of couldn't care less or they are freightened that the shoplifters have knives so, sensibly, will not tackle them. Isn't it about time for zero tolerance by shopkeepers and shoppers (as we the honest majority pay more) and tough court action.
Maria Allen, London

The recent rise in out of town supermarkets must be partly to blame, nothing more annoying than arriving at the cash tills to find a mssive queue of people, and hardly any cashiers! It is bad enough that you have to pick your own things and then queue to pay for them, the big stores do nothing for there customers. No wonder people help themselves! I wonder if Ronnie Barker in "open all hours" ever had shop lifting problems?
David Haslett, leicester

I used to work in a shop whilst at university. Whenever things went missing the managers would also suspect staff as well as customers, it created a very unpleasant working atmosphere as you felt under constant suspicion. Its a pity shoplifters dont care about anybody's lives other than their own. Also its a pity that managers feel they cannot trust their own staff.
Lee Howarth, sheffield

Shoplifting is a crime committed by those in desperate need of a short term cash 'fix'. Be it to pay a loan shark or to feed a drug habit the common denominator is poverty. I will grant you that there are habitual shoplifters who see it as an 'occupation' but ask any of them and I'm sure they would rather have a permanent job with a decent wage. If it's ok to rub poor people's noses in it by displaying expensive goods in every high street shop window then don't be surprised when one or two of them decide that being poor should not be a barrier from the desire to possess such items of their own. These people are as receptive to the same forms of advertising that the rest of us (not so poor) people have to endure but rich or poor has no meaning in the river of dreams and shoplifting is the high street currency of choice. What can be described as 'affordable' for a lot of people in this country cannot be for the very poorest who must be sick of seeing the rest of us trudge home laden with bags every day of the week knowing that for them this is but a dream. We can grind them down only so much before they make a stand. Credit cards, loans, wages in the bank every month, mortgages and holidays may seem normal for everyone of us but it's the stuff that dreams are made of for many of Britains poorest families.
Alex Fulton, Glasgow

The retailers need to start looking at their prices to start with. Razor blades and nappies are two examples of exorbitant prices for necessary products. Who can blame a single mum with a desperately low income for stealing a pack of nappies. I would'nt. I have also seen many food items stolen by numerous homeless people in London shops. They're not bad people or criminals, they are just resorting to the only way they can of fulfilling a basic need.
Robert Taylor, Welling/UK

My husband and myself run a small computer repair and retail shop. when we opened we spent over 5000 on security and we joined our local retail radio shopwatch scheme.We believe this is the only reason why our losses through shoplifting have not been higher. So far in this year we have only had 2 MP3 players (total value 150.00)stolen and our front window smashed (replacement cost 1600.00).Both times the perpetrators were caught on camera and arrests were made. But why have we not yet received a penny to cover our costs. We are not talking 'compensation' for our time, but the actual repaying of our losses? Its not automatic that the criminal repays us, we have to do the running around and letter writing and then if we are lucky we get some money, occasionally, at 2.50 per week because we cannot deprive the poor dear of too much of 'their' money, although they have deprived us of a lot more. Sorry to sound so bitter, but the excuses for shoplifting are pathetic, I personally have been homeless & jobless, yet I didn't resort to shoplifting,or theft of any kind, I just got on with life.
Julie Garrett, Hereford

Too many people regard this as a minor issue. Perhaps many have done it themselves at some point in their life. I think it's worth stressing out the conclusion "Shop theft is frequently a 'gateway' to more serious offences."
Adrian, Cambridge

If you make a pack of 8 Razor Blades cost more than a CD and in some cases a DVD, of course people will steal them and sell them on, even if these thiefs sell for 50% of the original price they will make a fortune. You might aswell advertise them as stealable goods, they are easy to nick, and becuase of the cost easy to sell on cheaply on a market stall. I have no sympathy!!!
Steve Mitchell, London, UK

As a young teenager, I shamefully used to pinch ... er ... "top shelf" publications from the corner shop across the road, and it should be fairly obvious why. Must have done it for almost two years and nearly got caught once or twice, but my dad was the local vicar and the shopowner didn't seem to have the courage to report me in case he was wrong! All very seedy, and not something I'm proud of but the hormones were raging!
Anon (of course), Midlands

Top on a shoplifters list would probably be smack, followed by a job. I feel that crime has moved away rom the CCTV protected shops and into the homes, sure more gets stolen from a shop but it was only there to be gotten rid of, possessions in the home hold much more real value.
Oliver Stieber, Newbury, England

For some of the tens of thousands of people living below the poverty line shoplifting is their means of survival.
Richard Moore, London, UK

So who is stealing my share. I look round my contemporaries and see none that would shop lift so there must be people out there who steal a lot.
Peter, AYR Scotland

The greater part of the losses suffered by retailers is theft for profit. A morning spent watching the proceedings in a Magistrates Court will tell you that most of that is down to drugs. It is an often overlooked fact that the maximum penalty for receiving stolen property is 14 years - twice that for stealing it. It is a deterrent that has yet to seriously dent the market for stolen property.
Jonathan, Birmingham

I have obly ever shoplifted once. When I was about 10 I stole a pink eraser from a local newsagents. I felt so guilty after carrying out this crime that I wrote a letter to the shop manager apologising for what I'd done and posted it, along with the 20p that the item cost. I included my name and address on the letter to which the manager replied, claiming that I was the most honest criminal he'd ever met.
Kate T, Cardiff

The problem is the punishment isn't severe enough, as a retired store detective, it was very demoralising to spend time catching the thieves, only for them to be given menial fines for their crimes. The stores are also to blame as some of the management would turn a blind eye to it rather then deal with the problem, in fear of reprisals from these people.

I have been in retail security for 23 years and shoplifting is a contiunuing problem, it is not a victimless crime and costs our business millions each year. The way it is dismissed as petty crime does nothing to deter the criminal. The amount of fraud committed is also substantial, with chip and pin having nigh on no effect.
David Joyce, London

I work in a busy convenience store. We've had people in taking a whole shelf of bacon & gammon, kids as young as 9, loading it into a basket then riding off on bikes. In and out in a minute. The Police know who they are and have banned them from the store, but they're too young to be punished. The adult crime 'gang-leaders' are using kids to steal now as they're less obvious and can't be punished.
Andy, Leicester

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