Eamonn May 23, 2018 6:39 AM

So journalist who admits to committing the crime writes article which cites no evidence or data to defend his assertion that if he is commiting this crime then everyone else must be doing it too so what’s the harm?

Is this actually evidence of anything or merely another example of someone using the “everyone does it” defense to justify their crimes?

Bilateralrope May 23, 2018 6:52 AM

Sure, self-checkouts make shoplifting easier. It probably has risen.

But security is always a cost benefit analysis. Self checkouts have probably increased the overall profit of supermarkets even with the increased shoplifting.

David May 23, 2018 7:05 AM

..and in the context of this blog, the larger issue is probably this: “In the self-checkout aisle, for example, human interaction is often pared back to a minimum, which reduces the perception of risk on the part of a potential perpetrator.”

As the human is removed from mor interactions, are we entering a new era of criminology?

0Laf May 23, 2018 7:45 AM

I use these systems a lot and normally without issue. I have on occasion been forced to do something I would rather not do such as get a small item for free because of the failings of the machine and a lack of staff in attendance to fix the problem.

It was not hard to figure out a way to steal more expensive items (although I haven’t).

I think the supermarkets have accepted that the losses from shoplifting at self-serv counters is outweighed by the savings on checkout staff

David Allen Wilson May 23, 2018 8:02 AM

It requires at least one attentive human. At my grocery, there is one inattentive human for four self-checkouts.

Occasionally, the machine will bring up an error because the weight of the object scanned wasn’t equivalent to the weight of the object put in the bag. But you need to have a human pay more attention than that.

Edward Brode May 23, 2018 8:20 AM

Anyone who goes to Sam’s club know that regardless of whether you use self-checkout or staffed checkout, there is a person at the door that compares your receipt with your items. Some of them are very alert. A couple with a baby in front of me had laid a new baby blanket over an old one and this ruse was spotted by the person at the door.

I asked one of the staff at a local branch of a supermarket chain why they didn’t institute this kind of thing, and she said what has been mentioned here in other comments, that the speed of getting people in and out is generating so much more income that they would rather ignore the shoplifting.

In California, you can’t buy alcohol at a self-checkout cash register, so that potentially very large loss of income is avoided.

Lisa May 23, 2018 8:23 AM

Is it shoplifting, or are people simply helping themselves to an employee discount for doing cashier work?

Seriously through, it would be better if stores passed on at least some savings to customers that use them, but they don’t. So it is purely a one sided situation, with: lose (customer), lose (employees), and win (store owner).

I personally avoid these self-checkouts when possible, but it is getting harder and harder as stores cut back on actual cashiers and any remaining ones have long queues with significant wait times.

stine May 23, 2018 8:42 AM

Lisa, I relish standing in the long lines at actual-cashier-checkout lines, even if I’m only buying a single item for several reasons:
1) I’m not in any hurry
2) It makes the manager look bad when the queue detection system reports a long queue at a register
3) the automated checkout machines won’t take $100s
4) buying a case at a time of, for example, soup, takes 1 count, 1 entry and 1 swipe at a cashier, but requires scanning all 24 cans at the automated line.

Slag May 23, 2018 9:20 AM

I think the larger interest is what does this do to the panopticon? It’s a faceless, soulless corporate/state process intended to suppress criminal behavior. Would it instead be encouraging it? Or perhaps just at a low level while more significant behaviors would still be discouraged, like burglary would increase but murder decrease.

Regretful One May 23, 2018 9:27 AM

“But security is always a cost benefit analysis. Self checkouts have probably increased the overall profit of supermarkets even with the increased shoplifting.”

What I came to say. The economics of this are easy. The profit margins of supermarkets hover in the 3% range and one of the biggest cost centers is employee salaries. It would take a great deal of shoplifting to offset the salary savings.

This is not a new issue in economics where it goes under the appellation of the “free rider problem”. Free rider because it was initially conceived as a discussion between the cost of people who scammed the public transportation system vs the cost of ticket collecting and verification. Depending on the utility, about 5-10% of all electricity in the USA is stolen. But given the huge infrastructure to police it just isn’t worth the effort to track down every cheat.

#Metoo Shoplifting May 23, 2018 9:53 AM

This isn’t only a problem with self-checkout machines. Many natural food places sell items in bulk bins and one has to write the proper code on a tag attached to the bag. A long time ago I figured out there there was one item that sold for $12.99 a pound that looked almost identical (same shape, same color) to an item that sold for $2.99 a pound. Never once was I ever challenged by the human clerk at checkout on the code that I had written down. However, my days as a shoplifter were numbered because I realized I didn’t actually like the more expensive item and it wasn’t worth it for me to buy even at $3 a pound.

The point being that even if these machines went away people would still shoplift. So the crucial question isn’t whether or not people shoplift using these machines, it would be whether or not they shop lift more than what they did before. The article in the OP neglects to discuss that aspect.

justnickit! May 23, 2018 9:53 AM

Check out the comments section on the guardian.

“Due to the large number of comments, they are being shown 100 per page.”

58 pages of comments in 4 days!

Clearly this is a subject the British are passionate about!

TimH May 23, 2018 10:44 AM

@Edward Brode: On clubs (Costco, Sams, gyms) can force people to stop on exit, as condition of membership. Think illegal detainment etc…

Wayne May 23, 2018 10:50 AM

I won’t use self-checkouts normally because they’re used to increase profit by eliminating jobs. There are extremely rare occasions that I’ll use them when I have one item. Walmart installed a second batch of them and simultaneously reduced the number of hours that their small number of items lanes were open, forcing you into the self-checkouts or to wait behind people with carts loaded with 200 items.

Albertson’s grocery eliminated them because of the error/theft rate. Additionally, the number of jobs available to those entering the work force is declining, and self-checkouts is another way to eliminate one more class of job possibility.

RockLobster May 23, 2018 11:18 AM

Capitalist profit greed.
The Agenda.
Private Sector employees must be paid as little as possible to ensure maximum profits are diverted to the stock holders.
Employees must not be allowed to work more than 30 hours per week to ensure they do not qualify for employee benefits.
Employer contribution to any existing benefits such as retirement or healthcare must be the minimum the law will allow.
Traditional employee benefits such as sick pay and vacation pay must not be offered.

Wherever possible, employees jobs should be replaced by automated systems.

The resulting impoverished working class population should be considered beneficial for the following reasons.

People who live hand to mouth often fail to meet credit oblogations. This provides us with the property and goods they had been working to pay for, at bargain prices at repo auctions.

People who live hand to mouth often turn to criminal activity for which once they are caught and imprisoned also provides us with reposessed property and vehicles at auction prices because once in prison we can be sure they will fail to meet credit obligations.

Of course the above examples may seem to be cause for moral concern. Such concerns should be dismissed and belittled.
This is America. The lives of other people are not our concern. They are there to be exploited.
Remember that.

Steve May 23, 2018 11:38 AM

The only item that I’ve knowingly shoplifted was a Bic pen. I picked one at the checkout in my college bookstore and wrote a check with it and then unconsciously put it in my pocket. I only realized that I’d walked off with it when I was out of the store and on my way back to the dorm. Still feel mildly guilty about it. Maybe I should send them the thirty-five cents, plus interest.

I generally don’t use self-checkout for the reason given by @Wayne but sometimes I’m forced to.

If something doesn’t scan, I just leave it behind, a little mute reminder that they lost a sale that would have been made if they had employed a human.

Ollie Jones May 23, 2018 11:38 AM

The article says that the absence of people on the self-service checkout areas makes would-be pilferers estimate a low risk, and so they’re more likely to pilfer.

There’s another aspect to this, though. The presence of a person often works to make it socially less acceptable to pilfer. This is why the DVD-delivery part of Netflix makes customers call and speak to somebody when they report a lost or damaged DVD.

LL Bean, until recently, allowed customers to return products for any reason at any time. But to do so, the customer had to speak to a customer service rep in person. Bean’s went to a great deal of trouble training their reps to keep straight faces. If a customer returned a shirt bought forty years prior and worn thin, the reps were not supposed to show any judgement. It was hard. And Bean’s has now tightened up returns.

Face-to-face social unacceptability is an important way to curb pilfering. But all this automation is desensitizing us, the population.

RockLobster May 23, 2018 12:33 PM

I know people who, since the introduction of self checkouts and the resulting skeleton staff at certain times they brazenly push entire fully loaded shopping carts out of the store.
Not once or twice.
Every week.
I’ll tell you something else too, the impoverished workers at the store who are treated like worthless dogs by store management are in on it. The give the shoplifting gangs signals when to go and I don’t blame them.
Unless you have lived that life where management consider it their job to victimise employees, insult and threaten them while excercising favoritism over others, routinely cut hours off peoples work schedule out of spite, jealousy etc and give them to who ever is their friends or who is performing sexual favors for them, unless you have been there you wouldn’t understand. But I do because I HAVE been there and seen it all.
So when they turn on them and help shoplifters, even just by turning a blind eye, I say good for them.

CallMeLateForSupper May 23, 2018 12:39 PM

Market where I normally shop doesn’t offer self-checkout. The 5-10 times that I used self-checkout, at another store, did not go well. The printer went inop, or the change bucket suffered constipation, or the bill acceptor was stubborn, or the scanner refused to recognize the bar code on a frozen item … There was always some failure, and usually no employee to notice – much less squash – the problem. Just last week I was stunned when the charge for my single item was $6+ instead of $2.50. There I stood with my two bills + change, wondering WTF had happened, while some of the crowd stuck behind me did a collective groan and face-palm. Memo to self: just say no to self-checkout, OK?

(What bit me was the new ol’ trick of putting Low-Price in huge characters and disclosing “customer card required for special price” in tiny-print.)

Santa Claus May 23, 2018 12:43 PM

Why is this article even interesting? There will always be criminals. What’s new about that?

RockLobster May 23, 2018 12:45 PM

Everyone should remember, each time you use a self checkout you are helping to put another person out of a job.

Regretful One May 23, 2018 12:46 PM


The psychology of it is interesting. I have noticed that some stores are now filming customers when they checkout, there is a camera on top of the machine and a video display terminal that shows the customers picture. I assume they are doing this because people are less likely to steal if they think they are being watched. Yet if one pauses to think about it, one was almost certainly being watched before by video the only difference is that now the store is thrusting it in the customers face that they are being watched. Nevertheless I bet it works. Just knowing someone is watching even if the watcher doesn’t do anything with the data can be inhibiting.

Regretful One May 23, 2018 12:52 PM


We need to stop being terrified of the idea of unemployment. In the future robots will do just about everything and 90% of the population will be unemployed. I’d argue that even right now, today, if one went back to the 1800s and asked people to judge current western society from their vantage point they would think that most people today are not doing any meaningful work. In the 1800s most people worked because the had too: no work, no eat. But after the green revolution and the rise of automation most people simply do not need to work.

So my view on putting people out of work? Speed the collapse.

RockLobster May 23, 2018 1:01 PM

@Regretful One
Interesting point. What do you see as the result of that for the 90% ?

Angry Primate May 23, 2018 1:04 PM

Everyone should remember, each time you use a self checkout you are helping to put another person out of a job

Honestly? If the store is already invested in self-checkouts then those persons have been out of a job for quite a while. Going to a potentially ridiculously long queue just to make a statement is kind of like throwing bricks in the grand canyon.

Tatütata May 23, 2018 1:57 PM

It would be interesting to compare the reactions to checkout automation with those made in the period when self-serve stores were introduced (with goods presented on shelves bordering aisles where the customer could circulate), which was roughly from 1920s to the 1960s in the US, and a few decades later in Europe.

The previous norm was to have a salesperson dispensing the goods over a counter, as is still the case for high-value goods such as timepieces and jewelry.

I never tried self-service check-outs, and am rather disinclined against them. One reason is that I seem to experience a scanning problem with at least one article every time I buy groceries. Or the queue freezes solid because a clerk must run to check the price which is actually displayed at the end of aisle 14. I don’t care to find out how this situation would be resolved at an automated check-out. Furthermore, getting the human out of the loop would make it more complicated for customers to assert their legal rights in cases of discrepancies.

I usually purchase cat food (my furry rugby ball contentedly purrs) in batches of ~100 cans (that’s about how much I can drag back home in bags) at a discount place. I tried several times to present them on the treadmill in neat sorted piles of 10, to facilitate counting, only to helplessly see the attendant scan each and every can individually. “We’re not allowed to work any other way”. They don’t trust their clerks, but they nevertheless have a self-service checkout (go figure), which also presumably forces the human client to serve the dumb machine.

echo May 23, 2018 2:25 PM


The UK is not known for accountable management or good customer service.

@Regretful One

Due to too many failures of standards covert recording by customers of staff in retail or the state sector would expose a lot of unlawful behaviour. Everyday human rights abuses are rife. As one example disabled people are being actively pressured and defrauded of their rights. If failed by design policy and failure by design policy vacuums don’t work then failure to provide access is another.

I’m really curious how a topic like Spectre and Meltdown attract so much technical analysis yet topics like human rights are so foggy.

I am currently arranging a meeting with a politician. I have acquired very embarassing evidence of one politician pretending local government had nothing to do with a specific human rights issue yet the next time I heard of them soon after that very same person became the chair of the committee whose role was to provide strategic oevrsight of this function. I also have evidence that the local council ignored an issue of fiscal responsibility when discharging a statutory function because it would reveal discrimination while pressing through another matter I raised because it saved them tends of thousands of pounds per annum.

Having gone off on a tangent I suppose my question is why is white collar “crime” by priviliged people ignored yet blue collar crime (such as shoplifting) receives the full weight of militarised survellience and swift and immediate incarceration?

RockLobster May 23, 2018 2:25 PM

@Angry Primate
Yes honestly.
It doesnt matter what they invested in.

The more people who join the line at the human checkout person, the more they are helping to ensure that job renains on the payroll.

The more people that join the line at the automated checkout, the more they are helping to ensure it doesn’t.

Angry Primate May 23, 2018 2:47 PM

I appreciate and understand the sentiment, and I don’t disagree, but corporate overlord logic is more along the lines (no pun intended) of “The more people in the line at the human-run checkout, the more automated checkouts we need to add.”

Automated checkout registers don’t need to be paid workers comp, don’t unionize (yet), don’t require benefits (not like anybody else gets them anyway), don’t need to be trained, don’t quit in a huff if a customer gets snippy (BSOD excluded), don’t require smoke/lunch/potty breaks, can work 24-hour shifts without complaint (see BSOD), and don’t skim from the till so they can buy smokes at the end of the day.

Unfortunately the very steep slope has already been well-greased and we’ve all been given a good, hard shove whether we like it or not. Protest if it makes you feel better, just understand that ultimately the protest will inconvenience you more than it will hurt “them”.

herman May 23, 2018 2:50 PM

What self checkouts?

I’ve seen the fad come and go. A few chains installed them and took them out again some time later since they didn’t work well and customers didn’t like struggling with them and would rather line up at the remaining real check-outs.

Regretful One May 23, 2018 3:32 PM


I have no idea what will happen. The question has been a staple of science fiction for decades and creative types have spun just about every scenario imaginable. My point was simply that I see no reason to delay this future, whatever the future might hold. As I said: speed the collapse. Let’s get on with it. Stop this stupid worshiping of work and let whatever comes next, come.

Esteban May 23, 2018 7:13 PM

So “RockLobster” has decided to make this comments section his personal grievance blog?

The subject was theft by automated checkout. Not workers of the world unite, or whatever your cause is.

Thoth May 23, 2018 7:20 PM


I have mentioned in the past on this blog comments section that the openly known secret sauce for a successful self-checkout system is a concoction of the following ingredients:

  • Authoritarian reguimes
  • Labour camps
  • No basic rights
  • Centralized national identity system
  • Centralized social credit system
  • Biometric tracking
  • Pervasive CCTV coverage and other tracking systems
  • Nationalized smartphone apps (i.e. Chinese made QQ, Ali* and WeChat)

If you are curious whether I am referring to China, yes I am referring to China. They are operating a lot of self-checkout systems with pretty good successes.

In general, self-checkout systems are more successful in Asia and other authoritarian regimes with the above setup because everybody is too afraid to break the laws and be sent off to labour camps for stealing a can of tuna.

A centralized ID system that has social credits and pervasive tracking enhances the capabilities of authoritarian regimes to know more about their citizens.

Self-checkout convenient stores in China have begun deploying facial recognition and other biometric systems in conjunction with their nationalized smartphone apps and social credit systems.

When a person walks into a convenient store with self-checkout capabilities to shop, before they enter the store, a camera in front of the doors will launch a biometric based matching and together with their nationalized smartphone apps containing the social credit modules, they will “login” to the store and once their “authentication” is verified, they will be granted access to the store.

The purchase of items are done with NFC and QR codes by scanning the items’ QR codes or NFC tags and they will be loaded into their digital shopping carts. Once they are ready to make purchases, the items they have selected would be ready for their collection or dispensed to them.

You might wonder about hacking the system or physically trashing the system to grab the items and make for a run. This is a huge risk if you remember that a biometric and social credit system based enrollment is used to authenticate the user and being caught on CCTV backed with live monitoring and biometric matching capable systems would immediately raise the alarm and the person would be caught and sent to labour camp for the rest of his/her life.

Also, recent regulations now require transit companies to only allow the purchase of transit tickets or boarding of nationalized transit systems or enter a premise based on a person’s social credit level.

That means, if you have a lower social credit level due to past actions recorded into the system, you would be prevented from entering, using or boarding certain systems and areas and this system is now deployed in China on a national scale.

A dissident with an alternative view would not be able to enter a shop nor take a bus or train because the central system would reflect a low social credit score and thus not able to travel or enter buildings.

Well, you could argue that if one does not install the nationalized app, one would be OK and would be able to use fiat currency ?

The answer is no.

Due to being an authoritarian regime, they would regulate and enforce the mandatory installation of possibly backdoored nationalized social apps (i.e. QQ, WeChat, Weibo, Ali/*/pay et. al.) and you would have no choice but to obey.

The central Chinese Government has successfully lowered the amount of existing fiat currency and have successfully done so and moved most of the population off fiat currency to digital currency and social credit systems issued by a central system.

So, even with cash on hand (fiat currency), you are still not going anywhere due to the reach of the central systems and how well it is enforced to ensure that everyone obeys a central authority.

The West lacks a good deal of the above secret sauces to be successful in that area but this is not a bad sign because if the West were to emulate the Chinese completely, you would have all your rights and freedom stripped out of you.

Would you rather trade whatever remains of your ideals and freedom for a completely locked down system so sanitized to the core and so well orchestrated whereby a thief is not spared or forgiven and simply put to hard labour ???

Make your choice …

Williaml May 23, 2018 7:41 PM

Self check-out is not easier nor does it save me money. In fact I go out of my way to a farther grocery store because my check-out is much quicker and my shopping is quicker (I’ve timed it).

Real people make a difference.

chris May 23, 2018 9:39 PM

It’s interesting to think that supermarkets think of their employees as “friction.”

advisor May 23, 2018 11:31 PM

I routinely advise my young adult patients to use condoms during sexual activity to avoid unwanted consequences. Many of them are quite embarrassed at having a cashier see them purchase these. I advise them to simply go through the self check-out lane which seems to relieve quite a bit of social anxiety.

RockLobster May 23, 2018 11:35 PM

@Angry Primate
“…corporate overlord logic is more along the lines (no pun intended) of “The more people in the line at the human-run checkout, the more automated checkouts we need to add.”

Fair point, and if that was because the people were joining the traditional checkout as a result of over crowding at the automated ones you would probably be correct.
I was suggesting to join the traditional checkout in protest at the attack on jobs the automated ones represent.
If enough people did that, corporate would see empty automated checkouts and lines of people at the traditional ones which sends a message that customers want real customer service people, not machines.

RockLobster May 23, 2018 11:46 PM

“The subject was theft by automated checkout. Not workers of the world unite, or whatever your cause is.”

Oh I see, silly me.
I thought the subject was theft of jobs, by automated checkout.
Ok all members of Workers of the world unite let’s go. Meet me back at Commy HQ. We need to continue planning the revolution.

RockLobster May 24, 2018 12:59 AM

@Thomas Sewell
“Please consider a taking a good course on microeconomics, or even just reading a relevant textbook. It will be enlightening to you.”>

Yes of course, and would you please consider taking a course on, troll posts?
Specifically, the sections on turning a discussion into a thinly veiled personal attack and the one about making inflammatory comments designed to incite arguments
Oh yes and the one about, how to improve your self esteem by insinuating your own level of education/knowledge is above others on internet blogs.
That’s if you haven’t read them already.

Alyer Babtu May 24, 2018 3:17 AM

Let’s see – self checkout, Amazon AI checkout, China life checkout, Google AI assistant checks things out for you, Google “selfish ledger” society checkout, Facebook check you psych you out, really fast processors and ill-conceived software that slows them down, … Why are these things being done ? There is no legitimate purpose or necessity in any of them; they are arbitrary i.e. violent choices. Aristotle said there would be leisure when automata were generally available. But present automata instead tend to slavery of one kind or another and to deskilling, so leisure is impossible. Convenience, profit, control taken simply or absolutely are evils. Those old Greeks noticed that technology is not an end in itself and looked for appropriate technology, a search governed by the question of what is the good for the human person.

echo May 24, 2018 4:40 AM


In the UK you can buy condoms online and obtain crates of codoms from the local sexual health clinic.

I advise anyone who may have sex with a new partner to use regular condoms. Female condoms are excellent but require more care. A sexual health certificate is only any good if line of site has been maintained and your sexual partner has not had the opportunity to be with someone else. I also advise never to have unprotected sex with anyone outside of a relationship.

Sadly, UK healthcare and policing is not like retail. You can’t just walk out the door and wave money at someone else. The “lens of the camera” can be very selective and tell a story which suits power but can can obscure history and context.

I routinely advise patients to have a lawyer lined up and covertly record any meeting with doctors. (In fact I advise recording everything including lawyers meetings.) Sadly, dogma and careerism and using patients distress as a financial bargaining chip is all too rife in the UK.

NHS doctors know they have a monopoly and behave accordingly because of artifically restricted supply and the fact a patient can’t walk out the door and go next door. When a patient standing up for their rights and enforcing published standards of care is perceived as “friction” threats and victimising and withholding healthcare is sadly UK doctors first weapon of choice. Yes, I have been alone in the room with a doctor who conducted an invasive and medically unecessarily examination and who refused to discuss a care plan and said “no” to everything I needed because he was too lazy to do the work (using “contract” as an excuse) then burst out laughing and rolled around in his chair with giggle fits when he saw how panicked and distressed I was. I have also had another doctor con me into stripping for him because he wanted to show a colleague my muscle tone and have been felt up by an A&E nurse. A doctor I had never met before wanted to discuss sexual fantasies with me for “mental health” reasons when it is known there was no medical reason for this and when I held back he become threatening and implied I was misbehaving and insinuated my healthcare would be at risk. (I know other patients make up sex fantasies just to shut him and his colleagues up because this is what other patients told me.)

I have also been stalked by a Chief Constable who was done for being a sex predator and perved by a “community” police officer and punched by another police officer when his squad looked the other way.

A go-to discrimiantion lawyer funded by a local government grant angled for a “bribe” to do any work which he was already being paid for. I am currently arranging a meeting to expose the corruption I have been recording and this includes local councillours too who ignored discrimination law and statutory responsibilities and enriched themselves. Yes, I am afraid the UK appoints councillours to committees who have a history of “waterboarding” constituents.

Michael S May 24, 2018 4:50 AM

It is shoplifting (ie. theft). The justifications for it are very interesting – “I shouldn’t have to pay the same for doing a cashier’s job”, “I don’t like the big supermarkets”, “It’s their fault for not catching people like me”.

But stealing is stealing. At least be honest and say “I think stealing in this situation is appropriate”.

echo May 24, 2018 5:34 AM

@Michael S

There are no absolutes which is why courts recognise mitigating circumstances and the public interest among other factors.

I am arranging a meeting with a politician. One of the subject areas will be the local government (and other state agencies) stealing off citizens. More distant to this are issues which state organisations deliberately stealing ringfenced money and using it for other purposes. I know for a fact that UK charities may not use donations given for another purpose and there has been action on this. I’m curious why the police turn a blind eye when it is the state sector. And yes I believe it is theft and know this accentuates discrimination and causes real harm. The solution? The NHS is now medicalising “crap lives” and sticking its hands out for another financial handout so more jobs and big buildings for them to shift paperwork but not actually a patient centred solution.

There are other double standards which catch my eye. Whyaresome patients sent long distances to a “centre of excellence” when this is known this causes harm and the “centre of excellence” only exists for cost control reasons yet doctors are offered a £20,000 bribe to work in poor areas (which theyare currently turning their noses at) and not forced by a random lottery like their patients.

Anura May 24, 2018 5:56 AM

@Michael S

Since the food that the supermarkets sell is all grown on stolen land, I don’t see how they can possibly claim it belongs to them. Until the stole land situation is rectified we can’t reasonably say that the food in a supermarket belongs to anyone in particular, and in fact it must either be that the food belongs to everyone or the food belongs to no one. Either way, it’s not theft.

Noone May 24, 2018 6:31 AM

I don’t get the savings reasoning. One cashier gets, say, $8 per hour. 60 customers per hour. If only one or two steal an item, the salary saving is gone.

echo May 24, 2018 7:48 AM


I agree! As long as companies use their power to rig law and dodge taxes while less fortunate people are harried and disadvantaged it is not theft.

I will interpret Bruces new topic as one of his discrete signals to calm down and stop grinding axes.

Peter A. May 24, 2018 7:54 AM

I only use staffed checkout when there’s no queue or I am buying crates of stuff – it’s faster then.

The checkout machine has one big advantage to me – it does not bug me for small change or give me bad looks when I put a 100 bill in it. It also works the other way, it doesn’t show impatience when I throw two handfuls of change into the coins receptacle, it counts it really fast. I use it a lot just as a change machine. I go to the ATM and it deals out 100s only (sometimes 50s). So I immediately walk into self-service area, grab a bottle of water and stuff the machine with a 100 bill – problem solved.

Yes, I am quite asocial.

And stealing? How low one’s morals have to be to steal a lowly box of pizza (why even buy frozen pizza – it’s horrible – make your own one, lazy chap!) or register croissants as plain bread rolls. Who’s faithless in small things will be faithless in big things. The item does not register? I leave it. Or I wait for assistance if I am in no hurry or the thing is important for me to buy at the moment.

Chris May 24, 2018 8:43 AM

When I first read and commented on this, I have to admit that I thought this was vindication for workers and I came at this from a pro-labor (or “labour” as our friends at The Guardian say) angle. But the figures for the increases in shoplifting must be offset by by decreases in employee pilferage and outright theft from “the till” by cashiers, no? Surveilling employees who handle cash has also got to be a significant cost to major retailers, so that savings should be considered too. Without knowing these numbers, we can’t really determine the whole picture.

echo May 24, 2018 3:52 PM

Could you guys put some more automated gun turrets and street corner euthanasia chambers into your dystopian predictions?

People visit shops for lots of different reasons. Shopping is not just a transactional experience. I will admit scowly staff are a right problem and there can be too many. I’m not always at my best myself which is why I gave a taxi driver the other week a big tip for putting up with me for an hour!

MB May 24, 2018 4:13 PM

If I were managing for one of these store chains, I’d let thefts go on for a while, then undertake a serious study of the issue and find out whether there are tell-tale signs that give away habitually dishonest customers.
I’d also ask the most egregious violators to cough up the money or be referred to the police. With publicly posted video. And ban them from the store. Or set up a little surprise next time they visit.
Basically, this would be the collection agency / casino model: make stupid customers believe that they can fool the store/bank/casino by abusing the free credit, rope them in, then make them and their families pay in the end.
Actually, I don’t see any reason why enforcement couldn’t be outsourced, to collection agencies or the like. This seems to be an extremely profitable business model, in other domains too.
As a side benefit, this setup and the ensuing publicity already are having the effect of making people believe that what these stores sell is worth stealing, hence valuable. Just as newspaper stories about gambling addiction are mostly free (or is it paid?) publicity for the casinos and gambling companies.
Nothing but win in the whole concept.

Per May 25, 2018 7:33 AM

The losses from self-checkout can be massive. In IKEA Denmark the losses grew to levels that made a significant dent in the finances so they removed the self checkout registers.

What we actually need is fully automated self checkout, probably using a technology like RFID on steroids or similar. Basically when removing an item from the store you buy it. No alternative. You cannot shoplift at all unless you can remove the chip. You will only be allowed to enter if you have a valid payment card. It will make shopping much easier – just enter, pick and pack your items in your shopping bag and leave. No queues and no transferring items from cart to register to shopping bag.

Bob Paddock May 25, 2018 7:50 AM


The company Trolley Scan has demonstrated such a system. The costs of the tags are currently the hold up.

They have some unique products in the RFID arena, such as tags/readers that will work at aircraft landing speeds.

eireoldeboy May 25, 2018 9:15 AM

Just used a handheld scanner as the checkout tool last weekend. Brilliant! Scan the bar code, put the items in the bag, hand the scanner to the real, live checkout person, pay your money and head out of the store. The scanner appears to trigger an “audit” if there are too many mis-scans. Might be a happy medium.

The real joy is not having to pack/unpack/pack/carry/carry/unpack.

chris May 25, 2018 11:46 AM

@MB — Seeing as how self-checkouts have been around now for over 20 years, I would think that the retailers know a great deal about the profile of inveterate pilferers. In fact, I’d be surprised if there’s not a large body of proprietary research on this in the retail industry, paid for several times over.

As for your suggestion of letting thieves think they’re getting off and collecting from them after the fact, I smell the beginnings of a first rate social engineering scam in the making. As enough people do this — if only by necessity or out of annoyance — you have a reasonably large population who could be guilted into giving up a credit card number to a robocaller or phishing e-mail. After all, you wouldn’t put it past the large, faceless and amoral corporation you just ripped off to track you down; throw money at the problem and make it go away.

echo May 25, 2018 1:34 PM

I forgot to scan the code for the post office to make another attempt for a signed delivery of a new skirt. As the retention date merrily waltzed past last week my skirt is winging its way back to the retailer.

Oh, honestly! I just shoplifted myself. What a dufus.

K15 May 25, 2018 2:18 PM

I thought it was odd that people would come over and take a candy bar from the display right next to the station I was using. Maybe this was why.

wetsuit May 25, 2018 3:06 PM

@slag: “I think the larger interest is what does this do to the panopticon? It’s a faceless, soulless corporate/state process intended to suppress criminal behavior. Would it instead be encouraging it? Or perhaps just at a low level while more significant behaviors would still be discouraged, like burglary would increase but murder decrease.”

But …

The panopticon is undone by a pair of welder’s glasses. I should imagine the real crooks are using them, while the petty thieves do their bit and get to be on TV.

Clive Robinson May 25, 2018 5:43 PM

@ echo,

Oh, honestly! I just shoplifted myself. What a dufus.

And I was “shoplifted” by an assistant this PM…

I’d got a few discounted / marked down items, and the self checkout was barfed on the battered fish fillets. The young lady leaping from self checkout to self checkout trying to stay ahead hit the wrong code –I assume– because it got checked through without me getting charged. I only realised on getting back and checking through the receipt as I unpacked and put stuff in the cupboards and fridge etc.

Ok it was less than 2GBP in a much larger bill but even so…

Supermarkets are not doing too well in the UK currently, “Homebase” has just been sold for 1GBP to a “restructuring” company “M&S” profits have tanked due to down sizing costs, and bad figures are expected for other major stores. The UK equivalent of Radio Shack called Maplin are closing most of their stores for good this weekend, I’ve had some good bargins out of there over the past few weeks but, they will be no more…

Which is annoying to put it mildly.

@ per,

You will only be allowed to enter if you have a valid payment card. It will make shopping much easier

In the UK currently shops are not alowed to not accept “legal tender” such as cash. And some of us do not want to do anything but pay cash for goods, anything else makes shoppibg way harder and wau way less secure.

You can keep Credit and Debit cards if you like but personaly I would like to see the payment card industry liquidated. Because it has been responsible for way to much debt and other ills.

echo May 26, 2018 6:26 AM


Yes, UK retail is putting up a front but silently collapsing. One of the major high street brands women’s clothing and accessories concessions decided to wind up after 50 years. Things are so bad they are considering reorganising merchandise and closing entire floors. I also have no idea how Maplin made money. I bought my Panasonic battery charger and batteries there, and some bits and bobs, and a few tools. It’s a shame really. Maplin has always been a fixture and now they are gone. They lasted longer than the computer shop who couldn’t even stay afloat with business solutions.

Brexit had a significant indirect effect on my business as the City went south during the financial crisis. From conversations since the last major crunch it seems people have now been brainwashed into accepting squeezed liquidity as the new norm. My clients are not price sensitive but even so. There isn’t the feeling of as much “cash” circulating to keep the pump primed.

MB May 26, 2018 11:31 AM

@Clive Robinson
Cash payments would be quite easy to set up. Just ask such customers to put up a cash deposit the first time they enter the store. The size of the required deposit could e.g. depend on the customers’ credit rating, how well they were dressed, or some other trustworthiness criterion. Sure, there would be misfirings, but no worse than under the current system. And no, I don’t think this would result in turning away potential customers; people will go to great lengths for the sake of “convenience”.
I agree. My implicit point is that it’s only getting better over time and an expert AI system performing automated image analysis is almost feasible. If not now, then soon.

Clive Robinson May 26, 2018 5:06 PM

@ echo,

Brexit had a significant indirect effect on my business

I’m afraid to say it will only get worse not better. There are those who are unelected by citizens in the EU who have plans of their own. Which amongst other things involves asset stripping the South of Europe and turning it into an agrarian labour camp for the benifit of a small part of the North.

There plans got a nasty shock when the Brexit result happened, as other EU citizens started heading for the door. They managed to keep the doors shut more or less but their view is an example needs to be set… And the UK is set to be made an example of. There was a fairly clear and considerably less painful way out of the EU[1] But certain well identified idiots at UK cabinate level are determined to make it the worst possible way now that they have been given a tiny amount of influence they arr running around with a big can of petrol and boxes of matches to ensure the bridges are properly burnt. What they are not saying and anoyingly the press likewise is what’s in it for these few proven liars and fantasists.

Unfortunatly the leaders of all three main parties and one or two minor parties believe the Brexit Fantasy for different reasons. So I can not see the political will being their to either slow the process via various tricks or arive at a sensible solution.

As for your point of,


blockquote>There isn’t the feeling of as much “cash” circulating to keep the pump primed.

There is not the “cash” since “Mad Margaret” Thatcher’s “de-regulation” currancy became a fantasy, thus those who can have taken the financial assets they would have otherwise invested in growing the economy and put them into what they consider “safe investment” in assets the only hold their value or can be used for unproductive “rent seaking” activities. Thus fiscally the UK has been in effect “hollowed out” which has caused more investors to move their assets. To make things worse we have the US Gov trying to stir things up with other super powers almost as a “last hazar”. Thus both Russia and China who had invested in the UK for various reasons suddenly saw not just Brexit devaluing but the US putting significant preasure on the UK to play the Anti-American style game, thus both Russian and Chinese investors are pulling out of the UK…

I think most people can see where this is going to end up and it’s not good… Oh and of course the news the other day that leaving the customs union will cost the UK businesses more per year than what we currently pay into the EU in total is just one more reminder of where the destination is…

I was alive and fairly young as I lived through the 60’s and 70’s, but not to young to remember three day weeks, various strikes that ment candle making became a major industry again due to enforced power cuts, people being sent “petrol coupons” and queing at garages just to get a sniff let alone a tank full of petrol…

Whilst things were not violent as such, it was effectively a war between those at the bottom and those at the top. Those at the top had to wait until Thatcherism to get their influence back, but it went rotton, and it was back then that our current dire surveillance state realy got going with Thatcher just handing money over to the IC “no questions asked”. Since then at just about every opportunity we have stepped another step closer. The “grinning jappanapes” Blair, so determined to “out do Thatcher” is a form of “creeping madness” that serves nobody well. A look at the US shoes that curently the encumbrants master plan is to not “out do Obama” but “undo Obama”, so it does not matter the view of what was achived “good or bad” it all has to be erased, unless of course there is a MIC vested interest…

The result security wise is increasing instability which causes further fiscal issues, which in turn alows those who will do well out of a surveillance state to do well. Thus we see further pointless and wasted opportunity investment in security boondoggles for guard labour that become used not for what was originaly promised but could never be delivered[2] but to inch forward profitably for the very few against the ordinary voter en mass. Thus the question arises of where the tipping point is between surveillance state and –private– police state?

Fairly soon we will get to the point where there will be another donwards economic shove to be exploited. The closing of shops is usually a “downward spiral” process. Empty shops means less reason to visit an area thus footfall into other shops diminishes. Empty buildings are an open invitation to all levels of crime, which in turn pushes that spiral down another turn or two. I could trot out a much much longer list, but I’m sure most can see what it will do to things like property prices, foreclosures and thus weakening the general fiscal confidence even further giving yet another turn or two downward.

The idea of “endless austerity” is now engrained with many at the bottom of the social pile along with a rising hopelessness. Seeing self checkouts not people is another reminder as is the lack of job opportunity, likewise lack of food on the table. This has deleterious effects on not just the individuals who might then turnvto crime, it has worse effects on the economy and thus security. Which in turn creates more opportunity for certain people to push their agender against the citizens.

In the UK the supposadly hidden “bonus system” in the social side of Government is being used to set infighting in amongst the lowely waged in Goverment employ and those in lowely waged employment or worse still unemployed benifit. Such infighting driven by hidden rules and inability to fight back keeps the blaim away from those further up the government pile. Whilst the use of “out sourcing” gives that “long arm” and “Commercial confidentiality” that dimmensions a huge carpet under which to sweep what is going on… You could call it arbitrary oppression, but as it is based firmly on the old legal notions of “rights stripping” and “preventing access to evidence” thus standing you can see where that is going to end up.

But they now of course have a new wheeze which is “Big Data” allied with faux “AI”, that alows the excuse of “the computer says” to hide behind. Even if a court rules that the inner workings of such systems be made public, it realy does not help as you won’t get access to the “training set” data by which such AI software can be made to perform the way you want… The best you will get told is “Garbage in Garbage Out” but you can be assured that the reality is driven by tax money largess.

I don’t know if you read about various seniors in government talking about how to deal with the Brexit Labour Shortage? Well it’s that old idea of making those who are “offenders” or “unwaged” do compulsory work for “social good”. It sounds seductive to those who have not studied their history. Almost the first thing to happen is the number of convictions or reasons to make people unemployed rises. This makes cheep labour to bring down the wages of those working. Whilst also leading to fear thus they become “slaves without security”. To some idiots at the top this sounds seductive, but it is the hight of stupidity. Because if everybody is on low wages they do not have the money to buy the goods that are being made. Thus the only thing that becomes profitable is “Guard Labour” and those that sell them the tools etc. We know from history that increasing such spending leads to war be it civil or otherwise… Thus security of all is threatened by such activities and the economy further suffers…

I could go on at length but I suspect you are aware of some of it almost first hand and thus can see where the pieces link together.

[1] The sensible way to have dealt with Brexit was to kick it into the “long grass” by going for what was named the “Norway arangment” by some. That is there are countries Switzerland being one that are in the EU trade and other zones without being members of the EU. In effect the old European Free Trade Agreement idea. That would have got rid of the time limit on negotiations that then could be dealt with not as an issolated country, but with the support of other countries in the arrangement thus making the odds considerably more equitable and favourable. Instead we have volunteered to be tied to a whipping post in a game that we cannot win only draw at best, but most likely loose.

[2] One way to get draconian legislation through is to say it’s for an “existential threat” and say how it will only be used against that threat. But the reality is make it “general” or very wide in scope. Thus the law gets passed and after a period of time it gets used against anyone and everyone who can not defend themselves or would never have thought such draconian legislation would be used against them. Thus are ill prepared when their name gets selected almost at random, as the legislation makes it a target rich environment to profit from.

echo May 26, 2018 8:25 PM


Yes, I would frame things in different ways but have a good idea about everything you are saying.

Robert Fisk has written an excellent opinion on how genocide is facilitated.

Whether Armenia, the Nazis or Isis – if you’re going to commit genocide, you can’t do it without the help of local people

Theatres of Violence on the Ottoman Periphery: Exploring the Local Roots of Genocidal Policies in Antep

Ruggy May 28, 2018 5:35 AM

I encountered a self checkout machine at Target which was stuck on the screen waiting for the payment card. Apparently someone went through the motions of scanning all their stuff and left without actually paying, and no supervisors had bothered to notice. I remember hilariously thinking the inconsiderate nature of pausing a checkout system and thereby slowing down other customers might have been morally worse than the act of theft they apparently committed (because of course, they had inconvenienced ME.)

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