RESEARCH from the United Kingdom has found that the rise of self-service checkouts is prompting more people to steal, with many using the impersonal nature of the experience to justify their theft.
But, as was seen in the Korumburra Magistrates’ Court last week, the change in attitude by otherwise law-abiding shoppers, hasn’t affected the willingness of supermarkets or the police to prosecute anyone caught taking goods without paying or fraudulently entering the wrong price.
On this occasion, the item stolen was a little harder than some to conceal.
The court was told that Tayla Brandon of Wonthaggi attended the Big W store in Wonthaggi in January this year, in the company of a friend, and according to police, while the friend distracted the attendant with a query at her checkout, Ms Brandon failed to scan one of the items she had selected from the store, an unassembled $300 mountain bike.
Having assisted the other woman with her problem, the attendant came across to Ms Brandon and even helped her put the bike back in the trolley before she went on her way.
However, on referring to the previous transaction after the pair left, the attendant found the item hadn’t been scanned or paid for and alerted management to the incident.
Staff approached the woman in the car park and asked to see the receipt which the accused woman said had “blown away in the wind”.
Police were called and after viewing CCTV footage they went to the alleged offenders’ home three days later where they found the bike.
Ms Brandon denied stealing the bike initially but offered to pay the store for it.
However in court last week, the woman agreed with the account of what had happened and acknowledged her guilt.
She did say, however, that because the attendant helped her into the trolley with the bike she didn’t go ahead and scan it as she had initially planned to do.
Magistrate Charles Tan said that while the level of offending was on the lower side, it wasn’t a trivial matter either and he fined the woman $500 with $79.50 court costs.
The UK Research about this phenomenon found that self-service checkouts allowed people to normalise and excuse stealing, even among those who would never consider theft in any other setting.
Professor Larry Neale from Queensland University of Technology’s business school told ABC Radio recently that psychologically, self-service checkouts made stealing easier because they distanced customers from the business.
“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’.”
Resentment of the major supermarket chains was also used as an excuse by shoppers to wrongly enter information or drop items into their bags without scanning them, Professor Neale said.
“Some of their reputation in the community as being against farmers gives reasons for shoppers to do the wrong thing,” he said.
There’s also the “carrot” approach, i.e. scanning more expensive items as carrots or something similarly cheap in order to reduce the overall bill.
Those inclined to adopt such an approach should be aware that supermarkets have highly sophisticated CCTV systems and a strict policy of prosecuting shoplifters.