Written by Andrew Tiedt
August 5, 2016
Research form the United Kingdom has suggested that supermarket customers are far more comfortable with theft when using self-service check-outs.
It certainly seems from the research that people using the checkouts are quite happy to not scan certain items, or perhaps scan them as a cheaper item. Interestingly, theft through self-service checkouts was almost triple the rate of theft on the shop floor.
It may well be the case that people who intend to steal are targeting the self-serve checkouts as being a “weak point” in the supermarket’s system. However the report author speculates that shoppers are better able to rationalise the theft when using a machine to pay for their items.
Supermarkets are often seen as little more than large corporate companies who have no social responsibility. If a customer is being asked to use a machine to pay for their goods rather than an employee, it may well be easier to justify some dishonesty.
Of course the problem is that the law makes no such distinction. Indeed, it could be argued that a person who takes advantage of a weakness in the system is even more culpable.
Supermarkets tend to ensure that even the smallest theft is, when detected, reported to the police. Police tend to take a similar attitude when it comes to laying charges and prosecuting offenders.
This means that a small act of dishonesty can still result in severe consequences, including convictions, fines, good behaviour bonds or community service. In extreme cases, particularly where a person has a history of dishonesty related offences, the courts will seriously consider whether a person should serve a term of imprisonment.
This can seem grossly disproportionate when the value of the good is considered, but the court will from time to time conclude that nothing other than a term of imprisonment is capable of sending the necessary message to an offender.
Courts are loath to hand down severe penalties for someone who has committed a low-value theft, but there tends to come a point where the court’s patience and leniency is exhausted.
As technology improves and theft detection methods become more effective, we might expect to see more people prosecuted for theft from our big supermarkets.