What Were You Thinking?

This week I have been witness to a host questionable decisions - personal opinion, mind you.

A couple of years ago Australia’s two major supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths decided to pursue the concept of self-service checkouts. Quite obviously, in an effort to reduce costs and to increase profit.

Looks like it worked too because Coles’ full-year earnings rose 4.3 per cent to $1.86 billion with food and liquor sales increasing 5.1 per cent to $32.6 billion, and the crucial comparable sales growth lifted 4.1 per cent.[1]

However, this week Coles has announced that self-service has led to an increase of theft. Gee, couldn’t see that coming. (Insert bucket of sarcasm when reading that last sentence)

Whilst there is market research that indicates the Australian public is none-too-fussed about the introduction of self-service supermarket checkouts, I’m yet to encounter this ‘average shopper’ in the flesh.

These self-scanning machines seldom serve me without throwing up every conceivable problem imaginable. Did you bring your own bag? There’s an item in the bag that didn’t scan. Can’t identify that grocery item. Price unknown or the item’s barcode simply won’t scan. These issues and many more, require the intervention of the overworked sole staff member that is expected to look after twenty of these machines, all being used by non-experienced checkout operators such as myself.

Is there any wonder someone throws that packet of Tic-Taks into their bag after five minutes of trying to get the scanner to read it. And let’s not even get started on trying to pay with cash now Australia has decided to introduce its super secure yet ugly $5 note. That decision is looking like costing Australian businesses many millions of dollars to upgrade all manner of vending machines to recognise the new note.[2]

What then rubs salt in the self-service wound is that the NSW Police have been roped into devoting taxpayer funded resources into policing what was a profit driven decision in the first place. Even more of a questionable decision is that of a government agency coming to the aid of a commercial company that is in a mess of its own making.

Firstly, it is true that we the consumer, end up paying more for groceries and the likes due to the retailer hiking prices to offset their losses from theft. Secondly, we fund the police to enforce the law and that may include conducting covert surveillance and other law enforcement activities. But to deploy these crime-fighting skills and tactics to stop that evil person who scans an avocado as an orange, or scans their chewing gum packet once despite having two packets, needs more thought.

I don’t know about you but with the advent of terrorism, cyber crime, home invasions and car-jackings [3] as well as Australia’s No. 1 world ranking drug [4] problem and illicit gun crime which is at unprecedented levels [5], I’m of the opinion that passing a carrot off as celery doesn’t sound so criminal after all.

The decision for NSW police to go public [6] with this move to assist Coles with their problem is my second questionable decision. Yes, stealing is stealing and the police are there to enforce the law. And this is in no way a criticism of the on-the-beat police officer but more so a ‘What were you thinking?’ moment when the decision was made to go public in unison with Coles (a commercial entity) to devote police resources to tackle a problem of Coles’ own making.

Surely someone in the police media liaison unit considered the ‘look’ of co-hosting a media release with a commercial entity to highlight that they are prioritising grocery theft.

I agree that stealing is stealing and offenders should be prosecuted, don’t get me wrong. But this is Coles’ mess and they should take it upon themselves to employ loss prevention officers.

Better still, give young Australian’s a start in life with a part-time after school job serving me at the checkout. They’ll do it way faster and much more securely than I can do it myself. I bet they’ll even accept the new $5.00 note!


[1] http://www.news.com.au/finance/business/retail/coles-to-cut-product-range-by-15-per-cent/news-story/55328f4da492e197e2f47662c12fcff6

[2] http://www.ibtimes.com.au/new-australian-5-note-rejected-vending-machines-self-checkout-counters-1530531

[3] http://www.news.com.au/national/victoria/crime/home-invasions-and-carjackings-prompt-police-summit-in-victoria/news-story/bbd91f1c9393932e8f5895411dfae705

[4] http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/australia-comes-top-of-global-list-for-recreational-drug-use-in-united-nations-2014-world-drug-report/news-story/764732bd5eb5037096389fcd55bfbcab?nk=316a947f9c98a060a48c6669026f9099-1475898408

[5] http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/melbourne-gun-crime-city-notches-its-100th-shooting-in-20-months-20160912-gre3n8.html

[6] http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/home/crackdown-of-self-serve-checkouts-by-coles-and-police-to-reduce-shoplifting-over-summer/news-story/0c1753f4e3ed593db4cb47b8001afa53