Retail crime is “out of control”

Coles and Woolworths have taken a stand against shoplifting this past week, with both supermarkets installing new camera systems at self-service checkouts to deter bad behaviour from customers.

The CCTV system, which films customers at the checkout and plays the footage back to them in real time, aims to promote good behaviour by instilling in people the feeling of being watched – even if staff members are not standing over their shoulder.

While many customers prefer to use the self-service checkouts for their convenience – they put through more than eight million transactions each week – some have more nefarious plans for the largely unmanned exits.

“While the large majority of our customers do the right thing, it’s not fair that a small number of people get away with doing the wrong thing,” a Coles spokesperson told Inside Retail.

Coles is currently trialling new security technology in a small number of stores.

Woolworths also implemented these screens in its new Gregory Hills store in an effort to catch the shoppers who intentionally, or absent-mindedly, commit retail theft.

A drop in the bucket

While reducing any amount of retail crime is important, these cameras are unlikely to have any impact on the more organised criminals who frequent retailers, according to the National Retail Association (NRA) manager for industry policy David Stout.

“These people are highly sophisticated, and have no intention of paying for these things, so the likelihood of them going to a self-scan register is low,” Stout told Inside Retail.

Incidents of retail crime have increased almost 5 per cent over the past five years, according to the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research – the fastest growth in any of the 17 categories the bureau tracks.

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Retail crime is “out of control”, according to Stout, with thieves becoming increasingly brazen, often taking stock – from technology to food – and walking out the door past team members, knowing they are not going to be challenged or apprehended.

The situation is amplified by the many options for the resale of stolen goods, Stout said, as well as the aggressive and sometimes drug-fuelled nature of some of the interactions staff have had with thieves. NRA research has concluded that 90 per cent of retailers have reported a significant increase in violent and aggressive behaviour towards staff.

“Apprehension virtually doesn’t exist, because you wouldn’t want to put any team member at risk,” Stout said.

“That’s why the numbers are increasing – and you’re only seeing a very, very small proportion of the numbers being reported because of the lack of appetite for the police to really address it.”

Of the $320 million in sales the Australian retail industry brings in annually, retail crime costs an estimated $5 billion a year when replacement stock, lost output and property damage are taken into account, according to the NRA.

However, Stout estimates that only 10 per cent of stolen goods are reported to the police due to their sometimes sluggish response – the knock-on effect of which means police are only setting aside resources to respond to 10 per cent of what is required, leading to the slower response times.

“Retailers need to report more so the police can resource accordingly,” Stout said.



  1. Laurian de Kauwe posted on April 17, 2019

    There is a very easy answer to this problem. Get rid of the self serve checkouts or put up with theft. Self serve checkouts are there because both Woolworths and Coles have lot the art of service. All the Retailers have to do is be proactive and try and serve customers quickly not be reactive and wait till each checkout is 3 deep before opening up a new one. This way there should not be any reason for customers to use self serve. They should also man the express items checkout better. I constantly see customers with big trolley full of items using the self serve. The groceries are not any cheaper when you use self service so the incentive to use self service is that customers are able to help themselves to their own 'specials' by incorrectly scanning cheaper products or just scanning 1 when in fact they have purchased multiples of products. Cameras will never be a deterrent to crime. The only real answer is to take the temptation away from the customer. Do away with self serve checkouts and start becoming more customer centric.

  2. Janta posted on April 20, 2019

    Woolworths and Coles want to save money and increase their profits by reducing staff and installing self service checkouts then they should accept that theft is going to happen. The loss their incur from this is more than offset by their savings in wages, so why are they crying about this. Previously police resources were wasted with them monitoring supermarkets for theft at self serve checkouts, I don't see the same resources being used to protect small businesses.

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