By Yvonne Sam
Social and Political Commentator
An ugly truth conceals itself behind the undistinctive façade of supermarket automation. Believe it or not, there is a helluva lot of shoplifting going on at the self-scanning checkout lane. Rather than refer to it as shoplifting, the guys in the loss prevention department prefer to use the term “external shrinkage”.
Not only has the theft become rife, but in addition, an entirely new jargon has sprung up to describe its maneuvers. For example, ringing up a sirloin steak, costing $ 14.99 /lb. with the code for a cheap variety of produce at $0.49/lb. is called “the banana trick”. A can of Illy Espresso Coffee leaving the conveyor belt without being scanned is called “the pass around”.
“The switcheroo” is somewhat more labor-intensive: peel the sticker off something inexpensive and place it over the bar code of something pricey. Just make sure both items are about the same weight, to avoid triggering that pesky “unexpected item” alert in the bagging area. www.mylanguages21.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/i.self-checkout_thievery.pdf
One may ask how common are self-scanning scams, but if anonymous online questionnaires are any indication, very common. A survey of 2, 634 people, conducted by Vouchers Codes Pro, a U.K-based company that offers coupons to Internet shoppers, revealed nearly 20 percent of shoppers admitting to having stolen at the self-checkout in the past. www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/personalfinance/household-bills/10603984/Shoppers-steal-billions-through-self-service-tills.html.
Around 57 percent of those indicated they first started stealing at self-checkouts because they couldn’t get an item to scan. More than half said they gamed the system, because detection by store security was unlikely. www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/03/stealing-from-self-checkout/550940/
The technology behind scanning grew in popularity about 10 years ago, relying, to a great extent, on the honor system. In lieu of a cashier ringing up and bagging the purchased items, the shopper now becomes totally responsible for completing the transaction.
It is this absence of human intervention, however, that diminishes the perception of risk, and could make shoplifting more common. The five-finger discount is exponentially easier to take advantage of when you are ringing up your own purchases. And it’s not just typical shoplifters who indulge in the practice, but your typical, law-abiding consumers, too. www.nytimes.com/2016/08/11/business/self-service-checkouts-can-turn-customers-into-shoplifters-study-says.html
According to Barbara Staib, Director of Communications of The National Association For Shoplifting Prevention (NASP), an America-based private, nonprofit organization, whose mission is to raise public awareness about the harmful effects of shoplifting on youth, families and communities, and reduce the number of people who become involved. www.guidestar.org/profile/22-3010584
Self-checkouts tempt people, who are already predisposed to shoplifting, by allowing them to rationalize their behavior. She further adds that most shoplifters are, in essence and reality, law-abiding citizens, who would chase behind you to return a $20 bill you dropped, because you are a person and would miss it. On the other hand, a robot cashier alters the equation, by giving a false impression of anonymity.
Frank Farley, former president of the American Psychological Association and psychologist attached to Temple University, says that many thieves have “thrill personalities” (Type T). Grocery shopping can be extremely boring, on account of it being such a routine, and self-checkout thievery is a way to make the routine more interesting. www.mylanguages21.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/i.self-checkout_thievery.pdf
Two criminologists, at the University of Leicester in England, have calculated that self-checkouts and in-store mobile phone scans for purchases in the United States and United Kingdom have contributed to a 4 percent loss rate, the New York Times reported. That’s a doozy, because in Europe, the profit margin for grocers is 3 percent.
The study analyzed roughly 12 million shopping trips, between December 2013 and February 2015, across eight retailers—two in the United States, four in Britain, one in the Netherlands, and one in Belgium. The duo audited one million of those transactions and found that of six million items checked, 850,000 had not been scanned. www.nytimes.com/2016/08/11/business/self-service-checkouts-can-turn-customers-into-shoplifters-study-says.html.
The store employees assigned to self-service lanes are often monitoring too many at once to be effective, said Read Hayes, a research scientist at the University of Florida and Director of the Loss Prevention Research Council. lpresearch.org/
It is apparent that the upsurge in self-checkout thievery can be looked upon as a Catch 22 situation. Conducted studies have proffered that retailers accept some degree of responsibility for the existing problem. For in their displayed enthusiasm to cut labor costs, supermarkets have created a crime generating environment, with profits being promoted above social responsibility. However, arrival at such a conclusion, begs for more careful consideration/exploration.
Self-checkout thievery has often been considered a victimless crime, with most people claiming that failure to scan an item, with resultant non-payment, is something that nobody will notice. This bears no truth, as the cost is passed on to the store and the taxpayer.
Some people suggest that the stores are actually encouraging theft by making it so easy. Still there are others, who view theft as some kind of “right”. Their rationale being that the store owner has tacitly conferred on them this right, by subjecting them to the menial task of checking their own groceries. A strange brand of moral relativism! — where individuals create their own rules and feel perfectly justified in demanding whatever they deem to be fair wages for the work they are performing for greedy store owners.
Be assured that there is always a price to be paid for lawlessness. The cost for unscanned items, stolen through the self-checkout lanes, is not taken out of the salary of the storeowner. No way! No day! No further say! It is added to the price of all the groceries in the store, and paid for by all those who do not break the law. Every time you shop for groceries you are paying an unseen shoplifting tax.
Speaking from a politically-correct perspective, we are all paying the price for society’s lawlessness. The costs are everywhere and they are increasing.
The Atlantic Magazine quoted a shopper, who commented on a Reddit discussion board: “Anyone who pays for more than half of their stuff in self-checkout is a total moron. There is no moral issue with stealing from a store that forces you to use self-checkout, period. They are charging you to work at their store” (emphasis his).
This individual has it all worked out in his own mind: he is entitled to steal half of the items in his cart. After all, technically, he’s working for the store. So his stealing is morally correct—and I’m a moron for paying for 100 percent of the items I’ve selected.
No need to be reminded of the current amoral society in which we live, where the Eight Commandment – “Thou shalt not steal” — has certainly lost its human appeal. For the time is soon be at hand, when questions may arise regarding groceries in the home — have they been scanned, or were they thievery-planned? I will continue being the “moron”, who pays for every last item in my grocery cart—just like I wish everyone else would.
Yvonne Sam, a retired Head Nurse and Secondary School Teacher, is Vice-president of the Guyana Cultural Association of Montreal. A regular columnist for over two decades with the Montreal Community Contact, her insightful and incursive articles on topics ranging from politics, human rights and immigration, to education and parenting have also appeared in the Huffington Post, Montreal Gazette, XPressbogg and Guyanese OnLine. She is also the recipient of the Governor General of Canada Caring Canadian Citizen Award.