PICTURE the scene: You run a thriving business in the heart of the community offering great service to your customers.

And then shoplifters strike. They walk in, pocket some of the items on your shelves and do a runner.

It’s all too common for shops and businesses. Fresh figures from Essex Police have revealed a staggering £1,055,677.21 worth of items were stolen from businesses across Essex in 2023.

Last year, 11,708 shoplifting offences were reported across the county but the force is ramping up its campaign against thefts as it dishes out criminal behaviour orders - banning repeat offenders from setting foot in shops.

Following a Freedom of Information request, the force has revealed it has seized more than £5.9million in stolen goods since 2019 and 2,721 people have been arrested.

Argosy Toys, in London Road, Westcliff, is a trusted retailer loved by customers and has been at the heart of its community for decades.

However, bosses have been forced to spend thousands on alarms and security guards to stave off highly damaging thefts which can hit retailers hard.

Manager, Thom Wohl, said: “There is no safety net for us which is quite difficult, every product is alarmed which does cost a lot and is a burden.

“Our alarm system was put in around the 80s or 90s and would cost a lot to update, our door alarms each cost around £1,600.

“We also have 32 CCTV cameras, even with all that, it is still tough.”

Thom added that thefts often target items that the shoplifter knows they can easily sell, such as Pokémon and Lego.

“These products don’t have much in it for us, with a soft toy we get back a 40 to 50 per cent margin but with Lego it costs us a lot more to lose, we only get a 30 per cent margin.

“Shoplifting mostly happens at Christmas which is more difficult for us to stop because it is so busy, we have so many customers in the shop.

“We did manage to get an arrest last year though, we had a shoplifter who had stuffed Lego in their coat and ran out of the door.

Thom added that police came around for an interview after this incident and acted quickly to apprehend the serial shoplifter.

However, shoplifting remains an issue for the business.

“People still come in and take things as they please, but we catch them when we can, we do everything we can”, he said.

Police have cracked down on shoplifting over the past six months, issuing criminal behaviour orders which ban people from entering particular shops and areas, which if breached can result in a prison sentence.

A total of 131 charges were made in the fortnight to June 19 2024 for shop theft, with another five for assault.

Seven of those charged are having criminal behaviour orders sought on them by police.

According to the Freedom of Information response by Essex Police, 1,365 shoplifting offences were reported in Southend last year, with a whopping 1,694 reported in Basildon