Are Britons REALLY a bunch of self-service shoplifters?

After we ran a story about how much people stole from self-service checkouts the response from readers took us all by surprise. So we’ve rounded up the best comments to find out if we really have become a nation of light-fingered reprobates.

Self service check-out at supermarkets are turning us into a nation of tea leaves, at least according to one survey.

One shopper in five admitted to taking without paying, most adding that they first took goods because they couldn’t work the machines, then stole more regularly after they realised they could get away with it. In total more than £1.6 billion of supermarket goods are pilfered, with fruit and vegetables are the most likely items to be nicked, the report found.

But is that a fair reflection of modern Britain? You commented in droves offering everything from outrage to humour to ashamed admissions of guilt, and we’ve rounded up the best reactions here:

A lot of people were rather upset at the scale of the thievery: “Do none of these idiots realise that stealing like this puts the prices up on everything for everyone?” asked Tony from Swindon.

“It clearly demonstrates that many citizens of a so- called civillized country like the UK are nothing more than immoral and unprincipled little tea-leaves,” wrote Timon.  Susie added: “I'm really shocked! Not just that it has happened but that people have admitted to it!”

Gary wondered where it would all end: “How long will it be before someone actually nicks a self-service till?”

[Shoppers steal billions through self service tills]

That said, there were a fair few of you that felt the supermarkets had it coming.

Adam summed up the opinions of many: “The supermarkets rip off shoppers so I guess that they are just returning the favour.”

“The shops deserve all they get,” Tommy added. “Instead of self service tills they want to employ check out staff. lf they’re losing that much money it doesn't pay to have self service tills.”

Of course, not everyone felt it was justified.

Timon noted: “When they do the thieving, they justify it as if it's their moral right but when they're on the receiving end they're quite happy to see the perpetrator slammed up for the rest... It infuriates me to hear all the brainless comments trying to lay the blame on the supermarkets. Your arguments wouldn't stand up in a court of law, WOULD THEY!!!”

A lot of you seemed confused about just how they were getting away with it. Evergreen, from Buckinghamshire, for one: “How? The one time I put the wrong kind of doughnut in, they swooped down on me within seconds!”

Sean was equally in the dark: “I don't understand how people can steal when using the self service tills. If I put so much as a sweetie in the bag without scanning, I am told to re-scan the item and I can't proceed with checking out.”

While FMC felt the security was going too far: “I had a Tesco security man watch me as I queued up at a self serve checkout for ten minutes,” he said. “I had one multipack of crisps costing £1 but got fed up waiting so put it down and walked out when I was challenged by security as to what had happened to the crisps. As I had no bag and wearing a tight jacket, there was nowhere to hide them but I had to go back in to show him where they were! I know they are doing their job but sometimes common sense is needed ....or lack of it.”

Of course it’s not just the how that confused people, it was also the why. Graham summed up what many thought: “I have never done it...Who would risk a criminal record for a courgette..?”

Anger at the self-service machines
Self-service check outs generated at least as much outrage as the thieves themselves. Matt, for one, has had enough: “Am I the only nutter who tells the robot voice to shut up when it thanks you for shopping there? It feels so insulting to receive sentiments from a machine.”

Elliecar, from Dundee, for one thinks the machines are out to get her: “Although I hadn't thought about it in the beginning, these useless machines that are abusive and don't appear to trust me, they are actually stealing a job from someone. Never again will I put myself through the insulting machines.”

Emma F added: “The self service tills drive me insane. The annoying repetitive voice's used, the lack of ability to scan items, they way they randomly accuse me of adding other items into the bag therefore needing to wait on the one assistant who is supervising several other equally malfunctioning tills to enter a code so that I can continue. At the end of my shop my blood pressure is sky high and I feel like I want to choke someone.”

Keely agrees: “I find the self service checkouts bossy and impatient!”

Others are just baffled. Boingsplat, from Linlithgow in Scotland, commented: “I think it is ridiculous to have the photo shop next to the self service tills; I had photocopied half my shopping before I realised the mistake. Perhaps I should have realised it wasn't squawking: I'll get an assistant to verify your bags; I'll get an assistant to weigh that; foreign object in the bagging area; put ... put .... put your .... coins and notes are dispensed below, but I was enjoying the silence ...”

Not everyone hates them though. “Just what is all the complaining about? I regularly use Sainsbury's self-service and find it fast, easy, and efficient, also there is always a helpful assistant to solve the occasional problem. The people using the manned check-outs wait several minutes to get served, by which time I am half way home,” said Mike.

How they did it
A  lot of shameless people were quite happy to explain what they at least said they’ve seen done (while others, who shall remain nameless, just admitted to nicking stuff).

“I have witnessed for myself people putting Beef Joints through as Onions etc. the only thing the scale recognises is weight, not the item,” said Alan. “Large items such as Ironing Boards can simply be put alongside the till and when the checker is called away to a problem the shopper can simply switch it over as if it has been paid for and leave the shop. The toilets in the Cafe area at the shop where I go is well known for shop lifters to take in items of clothing, remove the security tags which is easy for the hardened shop lifter and bag the item or put it on. So many times I have seen people take items into the toilet and come out wearing it.”

Of course, it’s not always intentional, as Bill pointed out: “I pressed the wrong button the other day and paid for brown onions instead of red. I must have saved myself at least 70p!”

There’s an easy answer to stop a lot of it though: “That's why they took self-service weighing machines out of a lot of Spanish supermarkets because too many people were cheating the machine then the cashiers weren't checking for anomalies,” Peter pointed out.

It wasn’t all bad news about bad people though, there were plenty of people who were far more honest – some going to great lengths.

Sebrina stood up for the honest majority: “Not me, I'm a good girl, I am. I walked out of Sainsburys without paying for a cooked chicken which I'd put in the place you stick your kiddie and somehow I'd put my bag on top and didn't notice it until I started putting the groceries in my car. Oops. I even went back inside and paid for it! I felt stupid for paying for it but I would have felt evil for keeping it....:D “

Another user, F, added: “I once had some cherries in a bag on my wrist that I hadn't scanned. Got home checked my receipt then raced back to the shop, 'purchased' another bag of them and left that bag with customer service explaining what had happened. They thought it was almost funny as I had in effect gotten away with it and was too honest (probably for my own good). “

Claptrap, perhaps, went too far though: “But then there are people like me who counterbalance this. I pay for the occasional thing and then get my son to run back to the shelf and put it back. I rationalise doing this by thinking ‘nobody will notice’. And they never do!”

The maths
Free the world comments: “Surely if they are losing £1.6 billion it would be cheaper to employ 100,000 staff?” He’s not alone in thinking that. Scores of people thought supermarkets should be employing people to stop this and save money.

Except that doesn’t add up. There are 57,000 supermarkets in the UK. So, two extra members of staff per supermarket - or one till open eight hours longer a day per supermarket once holidays and weekends are taken account of.

Darryl, from Brighton, explained the economics rather well. “I work in a convenience store that has 4 self checkouts. All of you moaning about ‘they take a person’s job’ are not entirely correct. We originally had 3 self checkouts and were given a fourth due to the fact that we were extremely busy, but we were not allowed extra staffing with our labour budgets.

“It was either longer queues or another self checkout. Even if we had no self checkouts, we wouldn't get enough labour budget to get the volume of customers through the tills as quick as possible. With convenience stores people forget that they do not take that much money compared to larger stores, but still have to hire numerous people to re-stack shelves, serve customers, keep the store clean and tidy and all the back of store jobs as well. Then there's the cost of buying all the carrier bags that are given away for free (and yes, they do cost a fair amount to buy every week), all other items stores need such as uniform for staff, pens, paper etc, plus all the electricity that is paid for, especially for chilled items.

“Our self scans can take at least 800 people through on a quiet day, which without that extra 1 self checkout would mean trying to put 200 people extra through the other tills. They help us a lot when we are busy and staff are off sick too. Supermarkets are a company that have to make money, just like any other company.

“Also for every one of you who are moaning about not getting face to face service, I know that there is another person who does not want face to face service and would rather have quick self service and be out. I'd say try looking at it from the perspective of workers who need these self checkouts, as with or without them they wouldn't get a labour budget that would allow that many customers to be served.”

And there was another bit of maths that caught our readers’ eyes. “Have to take this with a pinch of salt,” said Martin, from Yorkshire. “They surveyed 2,643 people and then branded the rest of us as thieves? Also there is no indication of the amount that was being taken previously via old fashioned 'shoplifting' so what is the real size of the problem caused by self service machines. Has the problem just reinvented itself?”