Written evidence submitted by Dixons Carphone (VTR0012)

[Note: This evidence has been redacted by the Committee. Text in square brackets has been inserted where text has been redacted.] 

Physical and Verbal Abuse

  1. Physical and verbal abuse is a growing problem in retail. The current COVID-19 pandemic has intensified this growth rate and the need for action against this type of crime. Over the last year, we have reported 1000+ physical and verbal abuse cases and documented a 103% increase overall on the 18/19 financial year. Many of these cases were reported during the early implementation stages of our COVID-19 controls in store and are due in part to frustration at increased queuing times and some customers challenging requests for them to wear masks in store. New online services, such as Webchat or Webhelp, have also seen a steep increase in reported cases over the last nine months, with around 800 of the 1000+ cases coming from this area alone. Staggeringly, our conversations with colleagues still lead us to believe that the size of this issue is not fully understood, with significant under-reporting of such incidents very likely. 


Barriers to reporting


  1. Reporting issues stem from the perception that verbal abuse and violence are "just part of the job" or "the norm".  Clearly this is wrong. Undoubtedly, this is the largest single factor that plays into the lack of reporting and it is clear that we need to do more to help colleagues understand that this should not be the case; however, it is not the only one. 


  1. Other barriers include the time it takes to report an incident, other workload or customer demand, external actions post report, lack of benefit to the reporter, fear of threat realisation, multiple reporting channels, i.e., internal (company records) and external (Police or other authority). 


  1. Additionally, many of our colleagues preconceive that the offender will face no authoritative action, so "what is the point" a phrase heard all too often. For example, last year, we reported 55 violent thefts via our loss prevention department. Thefts of this nature represented a sizeable monetary loss to the business, but more importantly, the potential impact of the experience for colleagues can cause long-term illnesses, such as depression, anxiety and PTSD. The Police dismissed a large portion of these cases due to a lack of substantiating evidence; these instances feed the colleagues' perception of the Police and the actions taken to protect those in the retail environment and inevitably lead to a loss of faith. 


Victim satisfaction with the action taken by Police and employers after the incident has been reported

  1. As a sizeable electrical retailer, we employ around 12,500 customer-facing retail colleagues. We are acutely aware of the effects that workplace violence, physical and verbal abuse can have on colleagues so we solicit a range of services such as Mind, Calm and an EAP line supported by Care First and Wellbeing-4Life that all offer victim support or counselling post-incident.


  1. As with any organisation our size, there will always be room for improvement but, on the whole, colleagues are content with the follow-up actions we have taken as a business. 


  1. As previously mentioned, last year alone the Police failed to prosecute and serve justice to a considerable proportion of violent theft offenders reported by our business. Whilst we appreciate that our issues represent a mere fraction of the issues in the wider community that the Police have to deal with, the complete non-response in the majority of occasions to verbal abuse incidents, is considered unacceptable and drives victim perception of the Police force to an all-time low. 




  1. Given the increase in cases of physical and verbal abuse of colleagues our company has seen over the last year and the wide perception across the whole of Retail that abuse from customers is somehow ‘part of the job’ and such incidents are therefore prone to severe under-reporting, we would support the creation of a new offence of aggravated assault.  This new offence would help land an important message across to customers and to colleagues that physical and verbal abuse of retail workers is unacceptable, and therefore not only act as a deterrent to potential perpetrators but also encouraging more retail colleagues to report such incidents, thereby better highlighting the scale of the issue.




  1. General frustrations exist within our business at the low rates of capture and prosecution for offences and then the relatively low penalties that are served on successful prosecution.  Significant investment has been made across our store network in CCTV but identification of culprits has been hindered by the face coverings that most people are now wearing in the retail environment due to COVID-19.


  1. There is also the feeling that culprits see this type of crime as ‘low risk’ to them due to the relatively small chance of being apprehended and therefore this acts as little deterrent to those that commit such crimes.


  1. We are also aware of the year on year cuts to Police force budgets and the fact that difficult choices have had to be made as to the crime categories to prioritise and where Police resource is best invested.  The perception remains that this type of retail crime remains a fairly low priority to most Police forces.





  1. Significant sums have been spent on deterring theft and reducing incidents of violence, both physical and verbal, towards colleagues with investment in CCTV, G7 clamps to better secure high value goods, the trial roll out of panic alarms to colleagues and the introduction of IP address blocking to prevent repeat on-line offences.  We are also proud of the colleague support processes we have in place for colleagues who are victims of abuse.


  1. However, despite this investment there is more we could do more to ensure that incidents are reported.  Currently incidents of violence to colleagues are not always logged and, when they are reported, there are inconsistencies in how they are investigated, by whom and where this information is recorded.  The H & S team collate data on incidents reported via them in our Event Reporting portal, but the Loss Prevention team collate information on robbery incidents that may include violence to staff separately. 


  1. We are therefore re-developing our Event Reporting portal to include improved and bespoke investigation templates for violent and security-related incidents and will be training our Loss Prevention team to input into this system used by the H & S team. 


  1. Improved recording with data all in one place will provide greater transparency, allow us to better understand the size of the issue physical and verbal abuse is to our business and enable us to monitor trends more effectively, identifying areas of concern and pinpointing where further improvements can be made.   




Steaming Incidents


  1. Steaming incidents by nature are destructive and upsetting for colleagues and customers that witness them. These incidents conclude with significant damage to the shop floor and its fixtures which impact on the shops ability to trade. The damage costs usually outweigh the stock loss figures


  1. There were 55 steaming incidents between Aug 2019 and Dec 2019.  Significant increase on previous quarter (19).  Increase attributed to the launch of iPhone 11 but then decreased due to some arrests by the Police and the introduction of better security devices that made theft more difficult. 


  1. There is an unpredictable threat to colleagues through steaming incidents as the criminals become more determined and brazen – there are signs the threat is extending to other high value items in our stores




[Store 1, Greater London, February 2020]


  1. 4 suspects entered the store just after 6pm.   Verbally aggressive and one of the suspects held an iron bar in his hands. As a colleague approached one of the suspects, he is threatened with the iron bar.   The suspects targeted high value Apple and Samsung demo stock.   The loss was just over £5000 at cost.     Reported to Metropolitan Police who attended the store and we understand arrests were eventually made and they were charged – 3 suspects changed their pleas to guilty just before trial – unclear of sentencing.


[Store 2, Greater London, February 2020]


  1. 3 suspects entered the store just after 10am.   They were verbally aggressive to colleagues demanding that they stand back. 1 suspect had a broken snooker cue.  Suspects targeted Apple and Samsung stock.  Net loss was over £10000.  Reported to Metropolitan Police - Footage recorded on mobile phone and ended up on social media.


[Store 3, East of England, July 2020]


  1. 3 suspects entered store midday.  Aggressive and shouting towards colleagues and customers. Targeted Apple stock – Net Loss over £5500 – Reported to [local] Police.   Arrests made following footage filmed by member of the public being shared on social media.   CCTV suggests suspects the same as above incidents ([store 1 and store 2]) but understand no charges brought.


[Store 1, Greater London, September 2020]


  1. 2 Suspects entered the store at approximately 3pm wearing hoodies and facemasks.  They targeted Apple stock.    Customer stated they think they saw a knife.  CCTV inconclusive – Net Loss over £3000.  Reported to Metropolitan Police. Understand no arrests as of yet.


[Store 4, Southeast England, October 2020]


  1. 3 suspects enter the store 11am.   Aggressive towards colleagues but not thought to have weapons of any description. Targeted Apple stock.    Loss Over £6k.  Reported to [local] Police who did not attend.  No arrests that we are aware of. 


[Store 5, Greater London, December 2020 and January 2021]


  1. [Store 5] has been targeted twice in the last 2 months.  The first incident there were no weapons seen or abuse towards anyone. They grabbed Apple stock and ran.    Reported to Metropolitan Police but no arrests.


  1. On the second occasion the 4 suspects forced their way into the store past colleagues manning the front door and proceeded to take Apple stock again.  Threatened to stab anyone who tried to stop them. Police attended just after suspects got away. Unclear if arrests were made. 


  1. Luckily no colleagues were physically injured in these incidents and, in most cases, colleagues are following company guidance to stand well back and not to intervene. Most of the incidents we do have CCTV for.

January 2021