Sharon White, chair of John Lewis, has expressed concerns about the well-being of their store employees due to the emergence of organized groups of shoplifters who are specifically targeting expensive products like bottles of alcohol.
White, the leader of the retail chain that also possesses Waitrose supermarkets, stated that it would not be an exaggeration to refer to the shift as an epidemic.
She expressed that it seems as though over the past year, we have transitioned from casually taking six unaccounted for eggs at the store to coordinated groups stealing items specifically requested, which she finds deeply alarming.
A group of individuals broke into a Waitrose location in search of a specific type of gin. When they discovered it was unavailable, they informed the employees that they would return on Monday.
At a meeting hosted by the Policy Exchange think tank on creating more equitable high streets, White informed attendees that the gang members were aware that the gin supply would be restocked during the weekend.
White supports the idea of implementing a nationwide aggravated offense for attacking or mistreating a retail employee, similar to the existing law in Scotland. This would result in harsher punishments, mandate police to document all cases of retail-related crime, and permit the allocation of additional resources.
She had previously stated that John Lewis experienced a £12 million rise in theft compared to the previous year.
Several prominent retailers have brought attention to this matter, including Matt Hood, the CEO of Co-op grocery chain. He expressed his frustration with the lack of repercussions for thieves, who have caused the business to lose £33m in the first half of 2023.
White stated that she had not witnessed any significant changes in the physical environment due to retailers requesting increased police action against shoplifting.
She stated that not following through with this resulted in a decrease in the fear of consequences for lawbreakers and conveyed a significant rupture in the agreement between society and its citizens.
According to her, revitalizing high streets in general necessitated bipartisan consensus on a comprehensive strategy encompassing various actions, such as changes in taxation and transportation, to support the prosperity of communities.
According to certain specialists, reducing the number of employees on the shop floor, implementing technology like self-service checkouts, and displaying high-priced items on shelves instead of behind counters have all played a role in the issue of theft.
White stated that the increasing presence of AI would primarily impact call center positions in the upcoming years, as businesses seek ways to enhance efficiency in response to rising expenses.
However, she expressed confidence in the job market due to the creation of new positions related to advancing technology.
John Lewis has created a unique apprenticeship program aimed at transforming in-store employees into proficient “data scientists.” The company is currently attempting to promote the initiative to other retailers.