Different retail loss future, difficult to see

by Mark Rowe

We featured Prof Joshua Bamfield in the December 2019 print edition of Professional Security magazine after we were able to speak to him he attended ST20 Heathrow, a year ago.

As another physical meeting was not possible during last month’s lockdown we rang instead, to again ask for his commentary on loss prevention. As Joshua put it: “The world is very different from when we were last talking, in London.”

He thought it is too difficult to see what the future is going to be like. Retail physical shops are going to be much smaller over the next few years; changes that would probably not happened for three or four years – shifts to online shopping, and physical closures of stores and malls – have happened over the last six and next six months, he said. Opportunities for fraud in online retail are different, but probably just as great, if not greater, as those in-store; but obviously require a different set of skills to counter. “I don’t think online retailers have actually got on board with this, because at the moment it’s all been about trying to respond to massive increase in consumer demand.”

Joshua, pictured, whose specialisms over the years have included civil recovery for retailers from shop thieves, also pointed to the unprepared way that retailers have moved from cash to digital-only means of payment. While digital payment is convenient in some ways, as many shoppers say that they do not want a receipt, that could make it harder to resolve issues – such as; why has retailer X taken £22 instead of £2?! Although Joshua said that he was not aware of such issues in shops yet, he doubted if anyone has ‘really got down to looking at what the problems are’.


Although Joshua, an independent scholar and researcher who is the Centre for Retail Research, these days Norwich-based, is the author of a definitive study of Shopping and Crime (Palgrave, 2012), as his consultancy’s name suggests he also studies retail generally. He is a go-to man for general media comment when a retailer goes bust and was among the witnesses that went before the Lords economic affairs committee in September, on the subject of UK retail job losses and covid-19 recovery schemes.

Among his (online) oral evidence, Joshua spoke up for retail workers facing anger and violence from customers, just for being asked to wear masks and to comply with social distancing rules. He told the peers. He repeated an argument in his book, about how crime against retail has been more or less de-criminalised as it is not responded to by police: “If there is an act of strong physical violence the police will turn up very quickly, but if it is something less undesirable than that, which may make a worker feel they do not want to work there any more, you will not get a police presence. The best one can do is to say that it would be good for police to go into shops occasionally so that people know there is a police presence nearby.”

Also he set out how important a safe-looking and -feeling high street is, for maintaining customer footfall and confidence, which may involve some political policy-making: “As long as the high street looks as though it is in trouble and is neglected and no one cares for it, people will say, “We won’t go there. We will go to retail parks or buy online”, whereas the argument should be, “How can we help bricks-and-mortar retailers to change the policies they are adopting to operate out of a smaller number of stores more efficiently and profitably?”

More in the December 2020 print edition of Professional Security magazine.

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