Retailers, police crack down on DIY supermarket theft

Shoplifting at self-service checkouts

The DIY machines are clearly a convenient option for many, especially light-fingered supermarket customers.

Supermarkets frustrated by light-fingered shoppers have joined with police to crack down on shoplifting at self-serve checkouts.

Retailers such as Coles say they're sick of being targeted by opportunists who lie about what they're purchasing to get a discount or try to avoid paying at all.

NSW Police pledged on Thursday to charge shoplifters over thefts as small as $2 as part of the crackdown.  

Up to one-third of customers regularly steal when using a DIY checkout to pay for their groceries, according to a review ...
Up to one-third of customers regularly steal when using a DIY checkout to pay for their groceries, according to a review of recent surveys around the world. 

"No matter how small you think it is, even if it's the avocado and you're saving $2, it's still shoplifting," detective superintendent Murray Chapman told reporters outside a Coles supermarket in Zetland, in inner-Sydney, on Thursday.

"It's still stealing, it's still a crime and if we catch you or you get caught, you will be charged."

Det Supt Chapman said NSW Police, which received over 22,000 reports of shoplifting last financial year, would be working with retailers over summer to stop store thefts. 

Coles spokesman Martine Alpins said it caught about the same number of shoplifters nationally last year, with just under half of those occurring at self-service checkouts. 

"There has been a normalisation of theft at self-service checkouts," she said.

"There's also a feeling that 'I'm not being served by a traditional checkout person, perhaps I have an entitlement'."


But Coles said the machines weren't going anywhere because they were convenient and increased customer traffic.

It was a myth that self-serve checkouts had put people out of work, Ms Alpins said, with those staff hours redirected elsewhere in the store.

Det Supt Chapman said he couldn't go into the specifics of the crackdown but warned potential thieves they wouldn't go unnoticed.

Illustration: Matt Golding
Illustration: Matt Golding 

"You won't see the loss prevention officers visibly in a lot of centres and you won't see police," he said.

"But when we run these operations we're out there and we work collectively to identify and charge people."

Shoplifting costs the Australian retail industry $4.5 billion a year, according to National Retailers Association chief executive Dominique Lamb. 

Up to one-third of customers regularly steal when using a DIY checkout to pay for their groceries, according to a recent review of surveys around the world by Australian National University criminologist Emmeline Taylor.

Dr Taylor last month told Fairfax Media one of the biggest issues with self-scan was that otherwise honest customers seemed to regularly use it to underpay for groceries.

These shoppers often got their start in stealing by accidentally not scanning an item or scanning a grocery item for a cheaper item.

"But upon experiencing how easy it was they continued to steal regularly," Dr Taylor said.

Criminology professor Adrian Beck from the University of Leicester in Britain earlier this year warned self-service checkouts could be "normalising" theft in supermarkets.

"People are very good at neutralising their moral concerns when thinking about stealing things ... and people can end up feeling they have a right to get their share of the corporate profits," Professor Beck said.

with Catie Low and AAP