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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Sian Baldwin

Co-op turns to AI after huge rise in store thefts

Co-op stores are set to introduce artificial intelligence (AI) measures in a bid to combat a huge rise in shop thefts.

Bosses say they are taking the action after reporting 1,000 incidents a day in 2023, with shop workers being assaulted in some cases when they have tried to stop thieves.

The chain will introduce 200 secure till kiosks and start locking spirits in cabinets imminently in a bid to try to stop the rising numbers of customers stealing from shelves.

They are also set to introduce AI technology to monitor self-checkouts and say they have seen a 44 per cent rise in thefts across their 2,400 UK stores in the past 12 months.

Matt Hood, the managing director of the Co-op’s food business, said: “This is not a few opportunistic shoplifters becoming more prolific. This is organised crime and looting.

“People who are really organised can only be stopped by custodial sentences and the police. We need it to have consequences.”

He added that in certain stores, it has been noted that staff are facing as many as two or three incidents a week of thieves jumping the till counter to steal alcohol, cigarettes and lottery cards and these shops were being considered as “unprofitable” until issues could be resolved.

The Co-op does not currently use facial recognition systems, unlike a number of other major chains, and this is one of the first things they will be changing.

The chain said undercover security guards detained 3,361 individuals across its stores last year for a range of offences including burglary, abuse and harassment, amid a surge in assaults on its staff.

He added that “despite spending £200m on new security measures, including additional guards and a roving undercover team targeting crime hotspots”, the supermarket group suffered 298,000 shoplifting incidents.

He continued: “The thing that concerns me more than anything is that we have colleagues who won’t bother to report [incidents] as they know they are not going to get a reaction.

“If you have detained somebody that has committed a crime and the police don’t turn up, you have to let them go. You can imagine how demotivating that is for people working in the shop and how motivating [it is] for shoplifters.”

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