The increase in supermarket self-service checkouts has been impossible to miss in recent years, with most shoppers finding themselves using the machines more often than traditional checkouts.
However, the rise of self-service has come with something of an unexpected consequence: it’s encouraging shoppers to steal.
Research done on shoppers in the United Kingdom suggested that self-service checkouts were allowing people to normalise and even excuse stealing from supermarkets, even if they would not have ever been involved in theft in other circumstances. And the Brits aren’t alone, because as it turns out, we do it in Australia as well!
A professor from the Queensland University of Technology, Larry Neale, told 720 ABC in Perth that the self-service checkouts make stealing psychologically easier, because stealers feel separated from the business they’re thieving from.
“Self-serve checkouts provide that distance between you and the organisation or an identifiable victim,” Professor Neale said.
“The customer can’t point to someone and say, ‘that person is going to lose money if I steal from this store’.”
Neale noted that another reason that people were using to justify stealing from major supermarkets was resentment. These light-fingered Robin Hoods seem to be trying to ‘get back’ at the supermarkets for their mistreatment of the little guy (that being everyone from farmers to the shoppers themselves) by nicking as they pleased.
Stealing As A Form Of Protest
Interestingly, when 720 ABC Perth put out the call for listeners to ring in and confess when they stole from self-service, there was a pretty common theme. Many people admitted that they stole from the self-service checkouts as a protest against the machines. A man named Frank had this to say:
“If they are going to make me self-serve and reduce the employment for our youth, I will help myself to almonds and mushrooms at potato prices and make sure I hit their bottom line.”
His disgust at the way major chain supermarkets were disregarding unemployment, particularly among young people, was more than enough to justify his thefts, despite him actually being a shareholder in both Coles and Woolworths.
The Real Cost
The total value of these self-service checkout thefts is difficult to accurately determine, and supermarkets are hardly going to be sharing the numbers with the public. However, Professor Neale claims he has estimated the cost to be billions of dollars annually for Australia’s major supermarket outlets.
Neale also noted that the supermarkets tended to “absorb more of that risk because they are saving so much on labour costs” and that he expects in the future smarter technology will stamp out more and more of the cheeky thieves.
But until that happens, shoppers will continue to scan everything as carrots, conveniently neglect to scan items, or mistake the expensive peaches for the cheaper apples, feigning ignorance and innocence when they’re caught out.
Personally, we don’t have the criminal mind for it!