TookLast week, during his shift overseeing the self-scan section of a large supermarket in London, James let a woman out with three multipacks of children’s yoghurts. She randomly checked her purchases and found that among the items she hadn’t scanned and paid for were yoghurts, as well as a few pouches of baby food. He feels terrible, he says, for having to quickly run through his own judgments about how he considered her “worthy”—that she was young and had three children under the age of five, that She used to hold healthy start vouchers, which allow people to buy nutritious food on universal credit and other benefits, that the rest of her purchases were healthy without junk food or alcohol, and that she was genuinely embarrassed and upset. “I couldn’t bring myself to pick up four or five of these items, so I just let it go,” he says. “It wasn’t a huge loss for the company. It wasn’t like they were luxuries. I just said: ‘Don’t worry, but next time nobody else will let it slip.'” He knows he should be sacked for it. could have been done. “If I am caught, I will have to excuse ignorance or stupidity.”
At another supermarket, in a town across the country, Alexander notices a young couple that they cannot pay for their purchases at a checkout near him. He spent over £100, paid for it in some cash, and tried to put the balance on a credit card – not unusual, he says, but the card was declined. “For the next half hour, they took over the checkout, which we had to close, and had someone stand by them while they were making a phone call, perhaps to trace some money or fix a problem with the card. for,” he says. The pregnant woman was getting more and more distressed and wept bitterly. “Sad to see this. If a credit card doesn’t work, most people have another card, but clearly they had no means to pay.” Eventually they left without half of their purchases.
Inflation hit a 40-year high of 9%, partly driven by a rise in food prices at the highest rate since 2011. Then there is the rising cost of other essentials – housing, energy, petrol, phone and broadband bills. People – and disproportionately those in the poorest households – are being squeezed, and those who work in supermarkets are seeing it every day. Last week, the constabulary’s new chief inspector Andy Cook said police officers should use their “prudence – and they need to exercise discretion more often” when dealing with crimes of poverty, in particular. stealing food. Then Police Minister Kit Malthhouse said that police officers “should not ignore these petty crimes”.
But it’s not just theft. Supermarket workers rave about seeing people put back products they can’t buy, or make difficult choices about what to buy. There are many more, apparently those making small changes aren’t struggling: cheaper sausages on the premium range, own-brand deodorants on the highly marketed brand name. “People are putting things like strawberries back, and they’re buying bananas,” says a man who works at a large Tesco. “The cherries are £15 a kilo and they’re not really selling. Before, you’d see people come for bread and milk and take some small pieces. Now it’s bread and milk and they’re done. Well done. Fewer ‘luxuries’ are being bought.”
A few weeks ago, Tesco president John Allen said the supermarket was “seeing real food poverty for the first time in a generation” and reported that customers were asking checkout staff to stop scanning their purchases when it was worth £40. because they did not want to or could not afford to spend more. Leila, who works for a supermarket on the south coast, also says more people are asking her to stop putting out items when the total reaches £40 or £50. “Then they would take out the wine or confectionery and swap it for bread,” she says. It’s not that they put their priority items first, she says, “people don’t realize how much prices have gone up until they reach them and then they’re like: ‘Oh, Wow.’ It’s definitely changed the way people are shopping – they’re thinking: ‘Do I need this?'” One of Leila’s customers immediately put the total in a spreadsheet on her phone.” She Said: ‘I have to do this now or I’ll forget, and that’s really important.'”
Even in high-end supermarkets, high prices have been noticed, even if their customers are not particularly impressed with them. “Sometimes, when I bill them at the end, I feel a little guilty,” says Kay, who works at the checkout at Waitrose. “I just say, ‘Oh my god, this is really bad, isn’t it?’ And they go ‘yes,’ but most of them can afford it. If they can’t afford it they could shop elsewhere.” She has seen the effect on older people who use supermarkets for convenience “We know regular people and you see they’re not putting that much in the basket.” And employees shop less there now, she says, “including me. We get pretty good discounts, but I’ve started shopping at Lidl and Aldi while I’ll have [shopped at Waitrose] before this. I’ve looked at the prices of things I normally buy, which are 30p or 50p higher.
She says thefts have increased, and supermarkets have started hiring a security guard, but she says it’s not struggling so much that customers are slipping something extra into their bags without paying for it. , because experienced shoppers are taking products like meat, wine and razors. Blades for sale. The picture is elsewhere. A supermarket employee I talk to says that morning, an elderly woman claimed to have already paid for a bag of oranges, which she half-hidden in her trolley, but could not produce a receipt. “There was little concern about whether the woman had dementia, and therefore may have forgotten,” he says, but after talking to her – and checking in with her colleague at the checkout where she claimed to have paid did – employees believed it was more likely that she intended to take it without paying.
Nick works nights at a large supermarket, stacking shelves and restocking freezers. They always find empty packets, their taken contents, hidden behind shelves or under bags of frozen peas,” but lately it seems to have increased. Since the turn of the year, I’ve been searching for more and more.” Before that, it could have been an opportunistic thief who takes something like jewelery or accessories from the clothing department of the supermarket and dumps the tag somewhere in the store, But he says, “It seems to have taken off. Now, it’s everyday products.” Over the past few weeks, they’ve received denture adhesives like Voltarol and empty packets of painkillers that “suggest that it’s pensioners who are doing it”. Paracetamol has been taken “Even though it’s only about 20p”. Baby clothes are another thing commonly stolen, he says. “Last weekend, I got tags from Baby Socks.”
Supermarket workers tell people about the times when items are depleted and use physical force to get to them. “My colleagues normally do them, and they may have around 10 or 12 clients,” says Alexander. “She had to yell at him to stand back because he’s found it oppressive, and it seems to be getting worse.”
James has seen the same thing at the big supermarket he works in London. Over the past few months they have seen people double in number, and wait at the large doors of the warehouse at 3 p.m. on Sundays to pull out trays of depleted items, especially meat. “People will be waiting to take out whatever poor soul has and won’t even get to the fridge,” he says. “Before he reaches there, people are tearing trays from him. There’s less shame in it – there shouldn’t be any shame in it, but people care less about what it looks like.” There are regular people who have long waited for the yellow-glued stuff, but now There are more people who’re elbowing their patches. It gets a little territorial. He remembers that people were pushing to go to the low tray of strawberries, and the manager had to call the security guard to put the people back.
The environment has changed, James says. Customers tend to be rude and more aggressive. He doesn’t know if it’s a hangover from stressful days of lockdown shopping, when people were terrified and navigating new rules, or if the cost of living is taking a toll – perhaps both, he says. “They have much less to do with you, more dismissive of you as a person.” They feel that supermarket workers, even though most are on a little more than the national minimum wage, are experiencing public anger over rising prices. “You’re in a uniform, they don’t see you as a person, they see you as an extension of the company you work for, that’s why people yell at you.” Customers angry that a product is no longer on special offer will scoff at it, he says. “People have short fuses. People are under pressure.”
Many clients he recognizes are coming later, which he has put down to work for long periods of time. Another thing she noticed – perhaps because the parents have been at work for a long time – is an increase in children, around the age of 11 or 12, doing little basket shops. “They always pay in cash, and many times they fall short. They’re about 50p short and they’re like: ‘Can you take this off?'” he says, adding that the kids put those things back. which they have already scanned. He keeps a cash float, usually copper and small change left by other customers, and – after checking with his owner – often pays for his items.
Theft, James says, is “massively up” since the start of the year, perhaps by about half. Some of it is down to seasoned shoppers, he says, “people who try to leave with a vacuum cleaner or TV, or walk out with a trolley full of fish; who are in nice cars and nice clothes. They are not needy.” But it is rare that the police come out, he says – the shopkeeper will be banned from the store, but he will see them again in a few weeks. “The police will not really come forward for anything other than violence. usually nothing happens [to shoplifters] And for some people, it’s worth taking the risk.”
What James has seen, though, is “real people struggling who aren’t ‘shoplifting,’ but simply aren’t paying for all their purchases,” he says. He might look at them – they look guilty when they’re paying – and get embarrassed when caught. Every shift he works, he says, there are at least two or three incidents of it. “People forget to scan expensive items, like boxes of washing powder, things that don’t require approval. [unlike alcohol]Packets of pre-cooked meat, in a world where some families can’t afford an oven, are another regular item that gets “missed.” The typical customer, he says, is a fairly young mother who ” Haven’t scanned a large bottle of Comfort, yet only found 10 items, so it’s a ‘happy accident’. When you point out that it hasn’t been scanned and you scan it, they say: ‘Oh, I didn’t know it was a price – I’m not going to take it now.’ Then I feel bad because this lady has gone without fabric softener because she can’t afford it – but then she tried to go shopping.
“It’s hard, and I try not to judge anyone because it’s hard for people. You can tell which people are bragging about it and which people are struggling. Joe Anyway, it doesn’t really matter because you still have to do what you have to do.” Except for the occasional time when he doesn’t.