Self-service checkout theft still rife – and most get away with it

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Fruits, vegetables, packaged foods and fresh meats are some of the items most likely to be stolen from supermarket self-service checkouts, new research from Canstar Blue has found. And the vast majority of offenders are still getting away with it.

The survey, of more than 2,200 adults who have visited a supermarket in the last three months, found that 7% of shoppers admitted to deliberately stealing an item while using a self-service checkout in the past (i.e. they intentionally took an item without scanning it).

Meanwhile 9% of shoppers admitted to deliberately not paying the full price for an item while using a self-service checkout in the past (i.e. scanning it as a cheaper alternative).

“These numbers are consistent with a survey we did two years ago, suggesting any efforts on the part of the supermarkets to reduce self-service thefts are not working as well as they would like,” said Canstar Blue Editor Simon Downes.

“Self-service checkouts appear to have opened the door to shoplifting for many Australians who would previously not have even considered it. They’re still seen as an easy target and some people will seize the opportunity to take advantage of the situation, with the risks seemingly deemed minimal, especially when you can plead ignorance in the event of being caught.

“It’s also worth keeping in mind that this survey reveals the number of people who admit to stealing. The true figure may be higher.”

Shoppers aged 18-29 were found to be most likely to deliberately steal from self-service checkouts (12%) and to cheat the system by scanning an item as something cheaper (14%). Generally, the older shoppers get, the least likely they are to steal, the research found.

Across the states, shoppers in NSW and Victoria were found to be most likely to deliberately steal (7%), with Victorians most likely to not pay the full price (10%).

South Australians were found to be the least likely to deliberately steal (3%), with shoppers in Tasmania and the ACT least likely to scan items as cheaper alternatives (2%).

The ‘get out of jail free card’

Not only is self-service checkout theft rife, but most offenders are still getting away with it, the research found.

Of the survey respondents who admitted to deliberately stealing an item while using a self-service checkout, just 5% said they have been caught doing so.

Of those who admitted to intentionally not paying the full price for an item at a self-service checkout, 10% said they have been caught.

“In most cases, those people caught out trying to steal simply try to blame the machine, or claim it was a mistake,” said Mr Downes. “These excuses seem to be seen as a ‘get out of jail free card’ because mistakes can genuinely happen.

“The challenge facing the supermarket staff on the front line is working out who the real offenders are and who simply made a mistake. This is where the eyes in the sky and any other tactics the supermarkets have to catch offenders come into play.”

The survey found that fruits and vegetables (24%) are the most likely to be stolen from self-service checkouts, followed by packaged foods (16%), snacks and drinks (12%), baby products (12%) and fresh packaged meats (10%).

When it comes to scanning items but not paying the full price, fruits and vegetables (30%) were again found to be the most targeted, ahead of snacks and drinks (15%), fresh meats (15%), packaged foods (12%) and baby products (8%).

Aussies split down the middle on self-service checkouts

Respondents to the survey were also asked about their preferences for using self-service checkouts or not. The result was that Aussies are split completely down the middle, with 50% preferring to use them and 50% favouring more traditional, operated checkouts.

“Of those who prefer using self-service checkouts, it’s all about the speed and convenience,” said Mr Downes. “Some people would simply prefer not to have to interact with anyone and they can simply pay for their items quickly and get away.

“There is clearly huge demand for self-service checkouts, but the supermarkets would do well to listen to their customers because many still prefer walking up to an operated checkout and speaking with a human being.

“The trend may be replacing traditional checkouts with self-service machines, and this will work really well in some stores, such as those located in busy city centres. But in other areas the supermarkets risk frustrating their customers if they replace too many operated checkouts, or replace them entirely.”

Of those survey respondents who prefer using traditional checkouts, 30% said it’s because they like interacting with staff, while 22% said these checkouts are usually quicker.

However, 27% simply don’t like using self-service machines and 8% said they find them hard to use.

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