Shoplifting has risen by 70 per cent since 2000 despite the industry ploughing £4.3 billion into crime prevention, according to a report out today.
Thieves make off with an average £149 worth of goods from each incident, the British Retail Consortium 2006 Retail Crime Survey said.
Shop crime in the UK last year cost a total of £2.1 billion.
Of that figure, £1.43 billion was the value of losses from crime and the rest was money invested in crime prevention.
Since 2000, crime has cost retailers £13.26 billion, including crime prevention money, the report said.
The total cost of shop crime in 2005 was down 1.3 per cent on the previous year. It represented 0.86 per cent of business turnover compared to 0.88 per cent in 2004.
The BRC blamed "soft"
penalties and poor enforcement for the high rates of shoplifting. It wants the Government to reject the proposed removal of prisons as a penalty.
Rising rates of theft from stores are leading to more violence against staff, the report warned.
It said 60 per cent of violent incidents in shops happened when staff tried to stop criminals or prevent items being stolen.
Small and medium sized retailers are hardest-hit by shop crime because they have less money to invest in security systems and security staff.
The survey found that 15 per cent of retailers in that category have been forced to close their businesses as a result of crime.
In addition, 13 per cent have reported an increase in violent robbery and the same percentage have let staff take time off as a result of a criminal incident.
BRC director general Kevin Hawkins said: "The huge increase in the number of shoplifting incidents is extremely worrying.
"It is having a very serious financial impact and is putting the safety and wellbeing of staff and customers at risk."
The annual BRC Retail Crime Survey, sponsored by ADT, is based on data drawn from 10,054 outlets nationwide which make up 45 per cent of total UK retail sales.
The BRC called on the Government to reject proposals that would see prison removed as a penalty for shoplifting, even for the worst repeat offenders. The BRC also believes the police should make retail crime a higher priority.
Mr Hawkins said: "Soft penalties and poor enforcement are to blame.
"Retailers are spending millions of pounds on their own crime prevention as well as contributing £4.5 billion a year in business rates."
Around 13 per cent of SMEs have had to let staff take time off as a result of a criminal incident.
Mr Hawkins added: "There must be prison for those who repeatedly and persistently break the law and treatment for those responsible for drug related offences."
Mick Barnes, manager of the Retail Crime Operation in Birmingham, said a lid was being kept on shoplifting in the city following a series of initiatives.
The RCO involves more than 1,000 shops across the city, with shoplifters banned from all the members.
"Over the past four or five years, there has been a 30 to 40 per cent reduction in shop crime in Birmingham following a number of initiatives," he said.
"We are putting a lot of effort into deterring people and freeing up police time to deal with the lifestyle offenders who are doing it to feed their drug habits.
"About 20 per cent of the criminals are responsible for the vast majority of crimes, but we are working hard on things like civil recovery, civil actions and exclusions."