Police to target theft at Coles self-serve checkouts

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 17th October 2016

Police officers may not be your typical supermarket worker, but they have stepped in to try to tackle theft from self-serve checkouts at Coles.

Exploitation of the machines is not a novel phenomenon. Coles has reported that approximately one third of shoplifting from its NSW and ACT stores was done using self-serve checkouts.

Stealing through self-serve checkouts includes either by not scanning an item on the machine or by scanning the item as a cheaper alternative, so a customer is charged less.

There are many different reasons why customers may do this. The customer may feel frustrated at the implementation of self-serve technology, or there could be a legitimate error on the part of the user or the machine.

Consumers may see the transaction as a ‘Robin Hood’ scenario where the loss would have minimal impact on the large supermarket. Consumers dealing with a machine only may also feel less guilt than if they were forced to have a face-to-face interaction with a staff member.

Coles spokesperson Martine Alpins has been quoted “[t]here has been a normalisation of theft at self-service checkouts”, according to a report in Fairfax publications The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

Australian Food News has previously reported on an international study which found that self-serve technology promotes shoplifting, even amongst users who would not normally consider stealing.

NSW police operation

It was announced on 6 October 2016 that NSW officers would be brought in to crack down on theft at Coles self-service checkouts.

According to a ABC report, the police involvement would take the form of covert operations, including the use of plain-clothes officers and security camera footage.

A new approach to shoplifting

Although specific theft laws and penalties differ from state to state, theft is a criminal offence in all Australian jurisdictions.

Traditionally, supermarkets undertake the detection of shoplifting using their own security systems and personnel, and police are only involved after an alleged offender has been identified.

This move sees police taking a greater role in detection of shoplifting, at no cost to Coles.

It is yet to be seen whether this approach will be adopted in other states. This will depend not just on supermarkets, but also the discretion of the police force and state governments.

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