Car criminals are also changing their tactics and stealing high-value vehicles by trailing the owners as they drive home and snatching the keys as they park.
The new crime trends follows a decline in the number of traditional armed robberies. This has been linked to better security measures in banks, building societies, and security vans, combined with an increase in rapid response armed police units, and improved detection.
The robbers have been attracted by the relatively poor security measures at out-of-town supermarkets and the new range of high-value goods, such as designer perfumes and clothes, on sale.
Det Supt Christopher Brightmore, head of proactive crime operations for north-west London, explained: "Most of the most senior criminals used to be involved in armed robbery. But that's all changed - robberies on banks, building societies and security vans have dropped by 50 per cent in the past five years ..."
"The criminals have not gone away. They have gone for softer options, particularly big supermarkets and also betting shops, travel agents, petrol stations and off licences."
"The supermarkets, some of which are open 24 hours and are built on greenfield sites, often carry expensive stocks, especially designer clothes, perfumes, cigarettes, and alcohol.
"There's evidence they are being targeted by robbers."
The decline in the number of "old-style" robberies is reflected in Scotland Yard's figures which show that there were 175 bank and building society robberies in the Metropolitan police area in 1997 compared with 259 the previous year.
Scotland Yard's Flying Squad has proved so successful at driving the number of armed robberies down that they have expanded their work to include other forms of crime include "steaming" gangs who rush into shops, trains and building societies and steal goods at speed before fleeing.
Det Supt Brightmore also disclosed that the improvement in car security had lead to thieves switching tactics.
He said: "Rather than stealing them off the streets there have been incidents where they followed the owner home and attacked them in the drive way."Reuse content