Originally published May 2016. Star104.5 News Update February 2017: A Queensland mother has been found guilty of $4500 worth of fraud by way of an elaborate scheme using home-made barcodes on expensive supermarket items. The 35 year old photocopied barcodes from packets of cheap two-minute noodles, printed and glued to sticky labels which she stuck onto more expensive items lincluding meat, protein powders and even coffee machines! The woman was given a suspended jail sentence for the 31 counts of fraud. She was also ordered to repay $1545 to Coles and $2070 to Woolworths.
As a result of such theft, the major players are considering implementing a 12-item-or-less limit at self-serve checkouts.
Once upon a time there were grocery stores and supermarkets where people did their shopping, took their selection to the checkouts where a staff member would ring up their purchases. And everyone was happy.
Then came new technology where customers had to serve themselves at the checkouts. And we all became thieves.
Well, not all of us, but new data suggests that it’s so much easier to shoplift these days, and stores are almost ‘encouraging’ it.
A study out of the UK suggests that supermarkets with self-serve checkouts are making it easy for ordinary people to shoplift, and short-changing their own profits. It’s happening all over the world, including the Central Coast. And criminologists suggest that the stores themselves are encouraging it. The report from the University of Leicester’s Department of Criminology suggests that the new technology aids even normally honest shoppers in committing theft.
Now they’re not saying that everyone using the self-serve area is a hardened criminal, some of it is accidental– people just forget to scan items, select the wrong item of fruit or veg, or get confused by instructions.
Other times shoppers get so frustrated with self-service, or the fact that the supermarket giants are saving money on fewer jobs for checkout operators, they feel justified in not paying.
But mostly people shoplift because the technology makes it so easy, the report found that installing self-service checkouts might save on employee wages, but it increases lost revenue by 122%. And they all sold a lot more ‘carrots’ than they actually had in stock.
Closer to home, Australian National University Criminologist Dr Emmeline Taylor has reviewed surveys from around the world and said some showed up to a third of shoppers admitted to knowingly putting the wrong item through the scanner.
Dr Taylor calls these type of shoplifters “swipers” and the suggestion is some people are willing to steal at such checkouts when they wouldn't dream of committing theft while wandering around the shop floor. When you’re interacting with a machine you don’t really feel you are doing wrong, like you would if you were engaging with a human at the ‘till’. It’s also quite different to sticking something in your pocket or handbag.
Major retailers are now joining forces with Police to take action to stop stealing at self-serve lanes, after NSW police received over 20,000 reports of shoplifting last year- an annual cost to the industry of $4.5 billion. Police are now working alongside supermarkets to assist in spotting shoppers abusing self-checkout services, including CCTV filming, and loss prevention officers in plain clothes watching customers: "It's still shoplifting, it's still stealing, it's still a crime and if we catch you or you get caught you will be charged."
Supermarket CEOs say they are monitoring the self-serve areas closely, and providing customer support by way of a staff member, but Dr Taylor suggests that even more improved customer service and better technology could help stop the swipers.
Stores would be hoping this might lead to a happy ending for at least some of their missing stock.
So we can all live happily ever after, at least when it comes to grocery shopping.