Marks & Spencer cut theft from its stores for the first time in more than a decade last year, in stark contrast to the sector as a whole, which suffered a recession-fuelled crime wave.

The improvement came as a result of a raft of initiatives spearheaded by M&S director of retail Steve Rowe that helped ensure the business was as well placed as possible to ride out the downturn.

Rowe did not reveal exact details of the change to shrinkage levels or cost but said: “Last year theft and loss went down for the first time in 15 years. We invested in things like electronic article surveillance, training and awareness and had stock-loss bootcamps for managers.”

M&S’s achievement was not mirrored across the industry. In January, the BRC reported that shops suffered a crime a minute in 2008/09, when thefts rose by a third and incidents of violence and abuse of staff doubled. The cost of retail crime leapt 10% in the year to £1.1bn.

Retail crime expert Professor Joshua Bamfield, director of the Centre for Retail Research, welcomed M&S’s performance. He said M&S, which was at one time “the most strongly defended retailer in the UK” had increasingly been seen as “a soft touch” by thieves.

He believes the retailer is now “spending more but spending more intelligently” on loss prevention.

Bamfield said several big retailers that have consistently invested in addressing shrinkage had managed to cut theft levels last year.

➤ M&S kidswear trading director Karl Doyle has outlined how the retailer intends to take the number one spot in the category. Improved fashionability, a bigger footwear offer and improved merchandising are among the initiatives planned.