Shoplifters 'Inflict Greater Pain On Retail'
UK retailers lost £3.4bn to theft and fraud last year as the economic crisis took its toll on personal finances.
A study which examined the cost to 100 UK firms, including John Lewis, Tesco and Marks & Spencer, found that the squeeze on consumer spending prompted a rise in theft from stores.
Fewer high priced goods were taken as people targeted more everyday essentials like food.
Inflation remained stubbornly high during the period, with average wage rises failing to keep pace at a time of rising unemployment.
Research company Martec said the total cost to retailers of losses from theft and fraud in 2011 rose 10% - accounting for 1% of sales - with companies also having to spend more to combat the crime.
The figures include fraud by staff though whisleblowers managed to detect 40% of such offences, the research found, which potentially saved their firms £1.4bn.
Brian Hume, Managing Director of Martec, commented: "The level of loss through theft and fraud is further bad news for the retail sector after they saw a 2.2% slump in sales during the first quarter of 2012.
"It is common that in times of recession theft increases but this theft is costing UK retailers £3.4bn on top of the tough times they face with reduced sales, painting a worrying picture for UK retail."
Many retailers complained they could prevent loss more effectively with better collaboration but data protection regulations prevented them from doing so.
The Retail Fraud study also uncovered a change in shopping habits with online purchases increasing to account for 9% of total sales.