Think you’re smart nicking a few goodies at the self-serve tills? Think again. First they came for the cashiers ...
I HAVE a confession to make. Like many of you (one in four, apparently) I once consciously uncoupled an item from the supermarket without paying. Put that taser down, Constable – I’ll come quietly. Your offer of free food and lodgings at the kind hospitality of Her Majesty will allow me to catch up with some reading and, of course, get totally ripped.
Yet, despite pushing the physical limits of the human body with a rather undignified contortion to stash my phone (knew I’d regret choosing a phablet), it seems I could actually avoid incarceration by getting off on a technicality.
As each cell in our bodies undergoes complete regeneration every few years, that six-year-old me who strode valiantly past the tills with a plastic He-Man figure under his shellsuit top doesn’t actually exist anymore. He’s long gone. All that survives are the memories of his daring heist, all trapped inside that ridiculously coiffured head you see below. Nothing physical remains of the wee crook this consciousness once controlled.
Despite its scientific legitimacy, hardened criminals reading this from their prison cells should note the “It wasn’t me” defence – also favoured by pop star Shaggy – may not cut the mustard in any appeal hearing.
It remains a dangerous truth, however – one capable of terraforming the planet into Grand Theft Auto overnight if a bold lawyer were to convince a jury the neurons which sparked criminal thoughts are long gone. Despite such logic, it’s quite clear we can’t just put all prisoners back on the streets after their brain cells regenerate – at least not until the elites’ sky galleons take them safely to their luxury moonbase.
But if a recent study shining a spotlight upon supermarket thievery is true, it seems there will be plenty of new folk to fill all those empty cells once the legal system does the honourable thing. In the UK alone, one-quarter of shoppers now admit stealing when using selfservice checkouts. Although the average thief only makes off with £15 worth of goods a month, it all adds up to a staggering £1.6 billion every year.
This is a form of shoplifting so prevalent that it has almost become normalised – leading some psychologists to venture that the lack of human interaction in supermarkets – and the self-serve machines themselves – are criminogenic. Meaning, they turn otherwise honest folk into brazen, remorseless thieves – thrillseeking crims who convince themselves it’s just a harmless wee rebellion against evil conglomerates.
Yet, as the prices go up for everyone to compensate corporate losses, it seems these virtue-signalling bandits are not Robin Hood but simply, well, robbing food. The belief you’re working for the supermarket by doing the job of the cashier, unfortunately, will never entitle one to a staff discount. BACK in the day, some schoolpals who couldn’t afford their favourite video game magazines often procured the services of one young chap known for his magical ability to make items disappear from shops. His methodology was crude but effective – friends would crowd around the youngster to block the prying eyes of cashiers, as several rolled-up periodicals disappeared one by one up the Tardis-like sleeve of his oversized coat. Now, thanks to selfserve tills, kleptomania has become a rather more sophisticated endeavour. First, there’s the two classic weight tricks. Hipster pilferers can simply press the picture of potatoes when weighing expensive avocados – or fail to place their haul fully on the scales so a lower weight registers. Note, this act may actually be justified with bananas, with at least one-third made up of unusable skin.
Other techniques, which are freely shared online on social media and dedicated forums, include obscuring barcodes while mimicking the scanning motion and also towering items together so that only the bottom scans.
Playing dumb when an assistant queries excess weight also gives these folk the chance to exercise their acting chops as they nick the lamb ones.
Some scams have gained such legend in thieving folklore that they have earned their own names – “the switcheroo” (replacing expensive barcodes with cheap ones) and “sweethearting” (when shop employees themselves pretend to scan an item before handing it to loved ones). In the latter instance, you’ll probably get away with a free 5p bag too. BEFORE scanning a new pair of jeans through as a coconut, note that those faceless, corporate behemoths’ profit margins are actually far tighter than many believe. Large stores taking in around £1 million revenue each week are expected to deliver about 10% bottom line profit – against strong competition from discount competitors.
That margin is actually a hell of a lot less than the return expected for this newspaper you’re holding – so much for the dying print industry. Yet, despite inspiring rampant theft, self-service machines are still infinitely more profitable and less hassle than actually employing real people. But don’t think such savings cause stores to turn a blind eye to self-serve theft. Collectively, supermarkets are all now making sizable efforts to clamp down on the casual criminality of their middleclass clientele. Sainsbury’s, for example, has fitted new state-of-the-art cameras directly above self-serve tills. Now, both your morality and bald spot will be under close scrutiny. Other supermarkets will soon adopt highly-sophisticated tech to nail purloiners, who will have nowhere to hide from “StopLife” – artificial intelligence software which utilises algorithms to determine every possible outcome of a shopper’s actions at the checkout. Twitchy facial expressions will alert security long before you scan that venison burger through as an apple. And for those who think they’re home and dry after leaving a shop with haul intact – think again. Many stores now simply take an image of suspected shoplifters and use recognition software to track them each time they enter the premises, building a solid case for the Procurator Fiscal.
A single moment of weakness may see you let off with a slapped wrist, but not a recorded catalogue of events. Free steaks one day, free porridge the next.
Tricking self-serve tills is definitely a less conspicuous approach to thievery