Would you commit self-service checkout theft?

Would you commit self-service checkout theft?

Would you ever steal a bunch of bananas from a supermarket? Grab them, put them into your bag and then walk out without paying for them?

What about scanning your organic bananas through as the cheaper brand of bananas at the self-service checkout to save yourself a couple of dollars? This option doesn’t seem as extreme right?

Well, both of these acts are considered theft. However, research suggests that some people would consider stealing at self-service checkouts, but they wouldn’t dream of stealing while walking around the shop floor.

There’s now a name for these people who regularly commit self-service checkout theft –  they’re called Swipers.

Australian National University criminologist Emmeline Taylor explains how these shoppers often start by stealing accidentally by either not scanning an item or scanning an item as a cheaper good. Once they see how easy it is, they continue to commit self-service checkout theft.

It’s a lot more common than you may think.

Stories from the self-service checkout

Talkback callers to 720 ABC Perth revealed the practice of not paying full price for items when using the self-service checkout is widespread.

Caller Sebastian explained “I was in a large hardware store the other day and there was only one person on a checkout with a huge line while someone else was directing everyone to the self-checkouts. Out of anger, I justified to myself not scanning a quite expensive item.”

Another listener Mike said: “Take what you can get I reckon — if they aren’t going to pay for customer service then customers will serve themselves.”

Caller Frank said “If they are going to make me self-serve and reduce employment for our youth, I will help myself to almonds and mushrooms at potato prices and make sure I hit their bottom line,” Frank said.

Caller Julie, however, was the voice of reason “Who raised these listeners? It’s stealing, people. Not a bargain. I always do the right thing on self-serve. I could not sleep at night if I didn’t.”

self checkout


What are supermarkets doing about this issue?

Russell Zimmerman, executive director of the Australian Retailers Association, says shop theft puts a dent of three per cent or about $7 billion in local retail each year but says it is difficult to determine exactly how much supermarkets are losing. Zimmerman warned that it would be consumers who would pay for it in the long run through higher prices.

Checkpoint Systems’ Mark Gentle who works with major supermarkets chains to protect their stores from losses and theft explained how supermarkets are finding that higher value items are often being scanned through as cheaper items such as carrots or onions.” If staff are being more vigilant in self-scan, always helping and monitoring, there’s less chance of people stealing,” Mr Gentle said.

Dr Rohan Miller, senior lecturer in Marketing at the University of Sydney, suggested that this new self-serve technology had potentially triggered an increase in theft. Dr Miller said many supermarkets were trying to limit the problem of self-service checkout theft by improving security. He said the trend towards more sophisticated technology would continue and most likely help to eliminate this kind of theft.

However, the problem as Zimmerman states is that “there are people who will try and steal at every opportunity. It wouldn’t matter if you had self-checkouts or some other form of doing it. They will try to beat the system.”

Top reasons people gave for committing self-service checkout theft:

  • Gave up trying to scan something that wouldn’t register: 57%
  • Less likely to get caught: 51%
  • The machine is easy to fool: 47%
  • Didn’t have enough money: 32%
  • At the time I didn’t realise it hadn’t scanned: 6%

Top items people admit to stealing from self-service checkouts:

  • Fruit/vegetables: 67%
  • Bakery: 41%
  • Confectionery: 32%
  • Toiletries: 26%