“Swipers”, opportunistic thieves: at automatic checkouts, they “forget” to pay

Bananas. Just bananas. But then, a whole packet, every fortnight or so. This is what Lize, a 30-year-old musician, “forget” to scan when she goes shopping. “And preferably organic.” They are so good. “Hop, in the bag! In this world where nothing is free, at least there will always be bananas and sunshine.”

Marga also, a 50-year-old visual artist, regularly fails to scan certain items when she goes to the automatic checkout – “meat, cheese, nuts, batteries…” Since her husband left her, she has had to save as much as possible. She mainly pilfers from Albert Heijn, but sometimes also from Lidl or at the second-hand store. “Damn, everything is so expensive!”

For Kasper, a 26-year-old who works full time, it will be cheese, dried fruit, wine, protein bars, laundry detergent or branded toothpaste. And as often as possible. “In fact, every time I go shopping, I try to steal at least as much as I pay for. I try to only pay for one fruit or vegetable. The rest, I splash around.”

Sixteen times more flights

Willfully failing to scan an item at a self-checkout counter constitutes theft. It is worth remembering: many people in this situation do not really feel like they are stealing. And these thefts are frequent: according to a recent investigation by RTL News, 7% of people who use self-service checkouts regularly pilfer something. Among people on low incomes, this figure even rises to 10%, and among those aged 18-35, up to 11%. At the start of the year, moreover, the Jumbo supermarket chain announced that in 2023 more than 100 million euros of groceries had been stolen from it, or 1% of its turnover – compared to 0.5%. five years earlier.

Research has been carried out in the United States and Great Britain, where self-checkouts have been around for a long time. In December 2023, Grabango, an American company that offers self-checkout solutions, published a study according to which, with self-checkouts, theft amounts on average to 3.5% of turnover, compared to 0. 21% with traditional checkouts. In other words, people steal sixteen times more goods with automatic checkouts than with conventional checkouts.

According to another study by the University of Leicester, the use of self-checkouts and/or smartphone applications with which customers can scan their shopping themselves leads to a loss of 4% of turnover – compared to 2 % for checkouts with staff.

In summary, everything indicates that thefts are much more numerous with self-checkouts. Maybe because people who were already stealing are stealing even more? Or because there are more of them doing it? Still, the automatic cash register, without which we can no longer imagine a supermarket, a pharmacy, a DIY store and many other businesses, seems to be the opportunity that makes the thief. But who are these occasional thieves? And what drives them to steal?

“A little rebellion”

Kasper has the means to pay for his groceries. It’s just that he doesn’t want to pay for his groceries. If he steals, it is on principle, because of “Albert Heijn’s attitude towards its staff during and after Covid-19”. Kasper is referring to the difficult salary negotiations that ultimately resulted in a 10% pay rise. “Then, Ahold Delhaize (leader in Dutch mass distribution) has recorded record profits for several consecutive years. And of course, he distributed these profits to the shareholders.” Kasper says he has no qualms. His habit of cheating at self-checkouts was born “like a small rebellion against a giant without morals, who only thinks about money and profit”, and it is limited to Albert Heijn supermarkets.

Large discount stores like Aldi or Lidl are obviously not non-profit associations. However, Albert Heijn is the brand most cited by the people we spoke with.

So stealing, a gesture of rebellion against big capital? A gesture that may seem romantic, perhaps, but which remains criminal. And that’s precisely where its appeal lies for some: it’s forbidden. A prohibition that gives you chills. The icing on the cake is that if you get caught, the risk of being punished remains slim: you just have to pretend it was an oversight.

“When I fly, I feel alive,” confides Lize, the musician. I’m the one in control, I’m the one who decides. Maybe it has to do with being a decent, respectable person, I pay everything

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