Staff At Self Checkout - ©

According To Theft Experts, I Am ‘A Total Moron’

A recent article in The Atlantic exposes something I’d never even thought about before: ‘shoplifting’ in the self-checkout lane at the supermarket. Author Renee Chun says there’s a lot of it going on, especially among those who are predisposed to giving themselves an unofficial, unauthorized discount…

Self Checkout - © Sydney Morning HeraldA common cheat at the self checkout is the Banana Trick: manually punching
in the code for cheap produce such as Bananas when weighing Steak.

A real problem which gets little real attention

In an anonymous Internet survey of more than 2,600 random surfers, one in five responders admitted to having scammed self-checkout machines. More than half of them said they risked it because they believed that being caught was highly unlikely. Just remember: Those ‘help’ staff at self checkout lanes are there as much to stop shoplifters as to actually help you (see photo, top of page).

A study back in 2015 by criminologists at the University of Leicester in the UK yielded an estimate that shoplifting losses equaled a little over 4 percent of total supermarket sales. Those losses have to be absorbed by store owners and, so, result in higher prices for those of us who don’t cheat.

Shoplifters have no moral qualms

“Anyone who pays for more than half of their stuff in self checkout is a total moron,” asserts one of the many anonymous comments on a Reddit discussion about self-checkout cheating found by Chun during research for her article. And at first, I was shocked to hear that the Director of Communications of the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention, Barbara Staib, agreed with the poster who said:

“There is NO MORAL ISSUE [in the view of cheaters] with stealing from a store that forces you to use self checkout, period. THEY ARE CHARGING YOU TO WORK AT THEIR STORE.”

At least, that’s one way the cheaters rationalize their behaviour.

The thrill factor

Some shoplifters may simply have what psychologists call a ‘Type-T’ personality. Robert Redford’s character in the 2018 movie Old Man With A Gun, the ‘mostly true’ story of Forrest Tucker, is described in reviews as ‘a career criminal and […] escape artist’ who broke out of San Quentin Prison and pulled off a string of dozens of bank robberies at the age of 70. Redford, in character, explains life is simply too boring when you adhere to the straight-and-narrow.

So it may be for many shoplifters, Temple University psychologist Frank Farley told Chung: “Shopping can be quite boring because it’s such a routine, and this is a way to make the routine more interesting [for] risk-taking, stimulation-seeking people.”

My take

I can understand the attraction of shoplifting to thrill seekers. And I can see the point – though the logic seems flawed – made by those who rationalize that store management is ‘charging you to work in their store’.

I also hasten to point out that more and more people these days are living on fixed or inadequate incomes and may – in spite of their moral or ethical attitudes – feel they are justified in stealing food now and then just to survive, or to increase the quality of their diets. “I worked all my life,” I’ve heard pensioners complain: “Now I can barely afford a Hamburger, let alone a Roast for Sunday dinner. It’s just not fair.”

But none of that makes the practice okay. It’s theft, pure and simple, and it’s costing us all every time we open our wallets at the supermarket. Is it right and proper that some law enforcement organizations have instituted policies to not even respond to calls from store managers involving shoplifting incidents under $100? That’s not uncommon, Chun says, and I add, it’s not doing anything to stem the out-flowing tide.

~ Maggie J.