UK stores lost £4.9bn to retail crime and error in the last year despite retailers spending £1bn on crime prevention.

The figure, calculated in the Global Retail Theft Barometer which was conducted by the Centre for Retail Research and published by Checkpoint Systems, was up 6.2% year-on-year.

Customer theft is estimated to represent 43.8% of the total loss while theft by employees stood at 36.1%.

Internal error and loss from suppliers and vendors accounted for 16.2% and 3.9% of the total figure respectively.

Checkpoint Systems vice president of northern, central and eastern Europe Neil Matthews said: “The fact that retail loss has increased so significantly should certainly not be taken lightly. It’s extremely worrying that the actions of some people can end up affecting innocent families financially, which is a cost the majority of people can ill-afford in this tough economic climate.”

On average, thieves are estimated to have stolen £79 per shopping spree, which demonstrates that typical theft was more likely to be branded merchandise that can be resold for a profit.

Clothing and apparel reported the highest losses at 1.86% of sales, with accessories, outerwear and tailored clothing being stolen the most frequently.

Natural and speciality foods also reported high levels of loss.

In another high risk category, health and beauty, loss of items such as mascara, eyeliner and eye shadow increased to 2.37% of total retail losses.

Matthews said: “High losses are experienced by a relatively small number of product lines, particularly those that have been recently launched, expensive, easily stolen and in great demand.”