The retail sector not only drives the economy by encouraging consumer spending but it also has a second, less transparent function, one that also serves to help uphold society.
Retailers finance the drug and alcohol habits of thousands of people in this country. Shoplifters steal high value products which they then sell on the black market in order to fund their dependency. For the thief, it’s a no cost means of raising quick and easy cash.
Of course, retailers, seeking to reduce their losses, are constantly striving to improve their shop-lifting prevention and detection methods. And they certainly do catch the thieves who often prove to be too greedy, too casual or just too stupid.
Retailers then hand them over to the police with the evidence that they have compiled. And that’s when the problem begins to emerge.
What do the police do with these petty criminals? Minor theft does not warrant imprisonment, fines are pointless as the offender has no money to pay them and community orders have little impact. All told, it usually means a derisory “slap on the wrist” sentence – in all likelihood a caution.
Yet the shoplifter needs money for his habit so, on being released from police custody, he is soon back into stores looking for easy pickings.
Getting caught is merely an occupational hazard, something that does not stop them, but is just a delay in their daily duties, like an office-worker being called into an unscheduled meeting.
What retailers find most frustrating is that it’s the same people that are committing the shoplifting offences over and over again. In fact, most stores have a “Rogue’s Gallery” of people to watch out for. Yet, when caught, nothing seems to happen to them.
The police and prosecution service could be doing far more to prevent shoplifting. For instant, shoplifters could be made to wear an electronic tag that triggers an alarm when they enter a store thereby alerting security to their presence. That would be a simple technological solution to reduce shop theft.
Yet it doesn’t happen. And that’s because there is a hidden agenda. Society uses retailers as a secondary Social Security office. It’s a way of getting money to those most in need. The desperate will steal and, for the wider good of maintaining society, it’s far better for them to steal from commercial businesses than from individuals.
Take away the retail option and you are left with personal crime. And that would be a problem. The fear of having your home broken into, the fear of being attacked in the street, these are the sort of crimes that can quickly undermine society.
Society exists to protect, support and foster the individual. If it does not do this then it would be seen to be failing in its role. This cannot be allowed to happen.
And so, retailers are used to divert criminal attention away from personal crime. In many ways, it’s like insurance fraud –from the public point of view, nobody is seen to suffer because of it.
Shoplifting is estimated to cost the country millions of pounds each year but, for the good of society, it is probably money well-spent. It keeps us a lot safer than we would otherwise be. The only issue would be whether retailers are entirely happy with the arrangement.