Self-Checkout Students Rob Supermarkets 2023


Self-scan checkout machines have plagued supermarkets since the 1990s. They speed up grocery shopping but also boost shoplifting. According to a 2022 retailer survey, this checkout procedure might account for 23% of business losses.

A 2015 study examined the impact of a similar mobile scanning self-checkout system, where shoppers use an app to scan their products.

It determined that the technology likely facilitated theft “by removing any human contact throughout the shopping process” and, perhaps most importantly, “removing human contact at the final payment stage”. Shoplifters could blame technical issues or carelessness for not scanning merchandise with mobile scanning.

Inflation is high, thus opportunity produces the thief. Students are struggling to make it to the conclusion of the month. Most supermarkets use random audits or weighted systems to verify customers, making shoplifting stressful. How can you avoid detection? Is this sustainable?

We asked three students who shoplift food why and how they rationalize it. Three requested nicknames to avoid legal issues.

Tammie, 23, steals €400 ($440) monthly.

When did you start stealing, Tammie?

Tammie: I stole from a toy store at nine. I loved getting free toys because I knew how pricey items were. Stealing is like smoking—you start doing it to look strong, but you get hooked.

Stealing addiction?

It’s thrilling, but no. Since university, I’ve stolen from Albert Heijn. Self-scan checkout makes it easy—lots of kids scan eight things and take ten home.

I stole more last year. I couldn’t afford rent, education, insurance, or inflation anymore. My mother needs money too, so I don’t ask.

I stole thousands of euros last year, which is bad. I fill my bag, buy one item, and leave. I used to black out from stress, but now I just had heart palpitations. Though awful, it has a philosophy.

Defending your actions?

I developed some ethical rules after discussing this with a philosophy student. Vegetables, fruit, nothing absurd. If Amazon had a store, I might do it. Big firms make enough to steal from.

I feel bad about misusing my privilege. My black friend was startled when he saw how much I took in the supermarket. I feel awful because I’m a white student and not the typical shoplifter.

I steal from homeless folks at the entryway. That’s infuriating.

Will you quit stealing when you get rich?

My pal requested the same. He dislikes my stealing. I’ll keep going until I’m caught, even though that’s horrible. I may stop after this essay if people openly humiliate me. I’m worried about people’s opinions.

Luuk, 20, steals €300 ($330) in groceries monthly.

VICE: Hi Luuk, Why steal?

Luuk: I hated stealing. In 2021, I stopped being furious when my pals stole. Raspberry, tangerine, and sushi package at the self-scan checkout. I started stealing sushi when it cost €17 ($19). I stole euros first, then €100 ($110) three days in a row.

Impressive, my pals asked me to bring goods for them. I had to do it because it became a thing. I once left with a shopping cart packed of four cases of beer, champagne, and snacks for the class. Some students waited around the corner to pack everything into a car.

How can a self-scan steal so many groceries?

When I’m alone, I use other methods. In the grocery, I fill a bag and scan it. I wait till the staff is busy with customers. My bike key and bank card are in my back pocket, so I can leave swiftly. If checked, I go back into the store and say I forgot something. I try again.

I feel superior when I sneak out of the supermarket with a bag of groceries. I feel strange about keeping something secret when everyone thinks I’m decent.

I start by befriending the staff so they don’t suspect me. I talk to the staff. I once intentionally left my bike keys behind so I could search for them with an employee.

That’s beyond a lousy student.

I couldn’t afford smoothies or sushi, but I could purchase a baguette and hummus every day. I don’t mind stealing pricey items from big supermarket chains. I’m not risking anyone’s finances because theft is already included in the rates. I’m anti-capitalist and those large firms make gobs of money.

Stealing is harder now because you need confidence. If I think I’m innocent, they will too. I’m more frightened about being caught. I’ve stolen €7,000 ($7,700).

Are you sure?

No way. It’s unfair to supermarket shoppers too. I could find a job, but that’s selfish.

I won’t steal after graduation. I don’t like it anymore—it’s just realistic.

Sacha, 23, steals €220 ($240) monthly.

VICE: Sacha, why did you steal?

Sacha: As a rebellious teenager, I stole pants from clothes stores. I assume it was for fun and attention from my parents. H&M caught me shoplifting at 17. Because I was a minor, I didn’t get a criminal record. I didn’t steal again until self-scan checkouts at 20.

I was newly independent and had to pay for a lot of things. My friend convinced me that stealing is easy. You only scan half the products. If a staff checks your bag, display two debit cards and indicate you’ll pay the balance separately. It started little but worsened.

Teenage you stole for fun. Is it still exciting?

Yes, especially if I grin and look at a security guard. My adrenaline soars—it’s nice. I’m pleased when I unpack my stuff at home and realize I didn’t pay. No guilt.

My room is packed of Kruidvat and Action crap, beyond groceries. Kleptomaniac, truly. I steal fragrant candles, new teapots, restaurant ashtrays, and toilet fragrance sticks when I’m lonely. I don’t need fragrance sticks, yet it’s addictive.

Will you strive to steal less?

I’m ambivalent. I’m grown so much, and this behavior doesn’t fit me. I doubt I can quit on my own—it would be fantastic to get caught again. As an adult, I don’t want to get caught at H&M, but it helped me.

I stole to receive attention as a teenager, then to survive. It’s uncontrollable. My folks are so proud of me that I would have to restore our trust if they found out. I’m ashamed of my stealing.