Shoplifters need the disincentive of a prison sentence if they are to be effectively deterred from engaging in retail crime, an expert has claimed.
Jerry Carter, head of loss prevention at House of Fraser, insisted on the Today programme that the expensive costs of retail crime have to be lowered to reduce the impact of theft on small-scale businesses.
"There is this view that shoplifting is a victimless crime. Tell that to a small shopkeeper who may be faced with going out of business because of the amount of his losses, or indeed the big retailers where it's cost us millions of pounds to combat this," Mr Carter said.
His comments follow the publication of a survey from the Centre for Retail Research which shows that the cost of retail crime topped £4.3 billion in the UK last year. Most of this money was lost to theft by customers and also by staff.
At present the sentencing advisory panel recommends that prison sentences should only be handed out in shoplifting cases involving aggravating factors, such as violence or gang activity.
But Mr Carter dismissed this as a "crazy idea", arguing that prison sentences should be introduced for non-violent thefts to reduce the impact on retailers.
"There are the habitual criminals who will come back and come back and come back, but certainly someone who thinks they won't face a prison sentence may see shoplifting as a crime that they ought to get into," he explained.
Despite the £4.3 billion cost of retail crime being the highest in Europe, this amount fell slightly year-on-year, according to the Centre for Retail Research.