Retailers are facing increasingly organised and violent criminals in what has become a growing $1.1 billion-a-year problem, according to a new study by Retail NZ and the University of Otago.

Greg Harford, Retail NZ's general manager for public affairs, says retail crime "is a massive issue" and retailers are worried criminals are becoming more aggressive.

"Retail crime no longer involves just petty theft from stores. Retailers are reporting a sizeable number of violent and aggressive incidents every year, as well as more sophisticated fraud incidents," Harford said.

"This shows that retailers need to be more alert to a range of criminal activity, as well as taking steps to protect their employees and customers from the threat of violence."

University of Otago department of marketing senior lecturer John Guthrie said the total cost of crime is far greater than the $1.1b reported in losses.

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"Our research shows that retailers are spending around $514 million a year on crime prevention, plus crime takes a massive toll on the individuals who face violence, intimidation and who are fearful about going to work," Guthrie said.

"However, the research also shows that money spent on preventative measures does pay off. The biggest retail firms, who spend the most on crime prevention have a noticeably lower rate of recorded crime overall, so it's a good idea for retailers to review their security arrangements and do what they can to make it tough for the criminals."

Guthrie says a concern is that retail crime is increasing, and becoming increasingly organised and more violent.

"The research shows that 38 per cent of retailers have noticed changes in the profile of retail crime in the past 12 months, and are seeing more brazen criminals than in previous years. Theft by employees is also growing in significance, accounting for 18 per cent of losses now, compared to 12 per cent at the time of the previous survey in 2003."

Harford said it was "really important that all crime is reported to the police".

"The survey shows that, overall, just 31 per cent of retail crime goes unreported, either because there is a perception that the police won't act, or because it is time-consuming and difficult to do so. It is heartening that 63 per cent of retailers think police do an 'okay' or 'great job' of managing crime, but an online tool or app would go a long way towards making it simple and easy for retail crime to be reported," Harford said.

Retail NZ is renewing calls for the government to establish a dedicated Retail Crime Reduction Taskforce within the police in order to combat the increasing retail crime problem.

Harford said funding a social change programme to make it clear that crime is not acceptable, and bringing in an "infringement ticket" style offence for petty theft to ensure that there are consequences for people beginning their life of crime.

"Retail NZ sees early intervention and real consequences as key to stopping the cycle of crime."

To read the full 2017 Survey of Retail Crime, click here.