The U.K. is being turned into a nation of thieves by the increasing number of self-service checkouts, a new survey indicates, with one in five Brits using the technology to steal from supermarkets.
Some £1.6 billion ($2.65 billion) worth of shopping is being stolen from self-service checkouts each year according to a research by the VoucherCodesPro website – and that's just in Britain.
The number of self-service checkouts – which enable customers to scan and bag their own shopping – is certainly growing across the world.
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There were 26,800 shipments of self-checkout terminals globally in 2012, according to consulting firm RBR, which forecasts this number to come in at 35,400 for 2013, and reach nearly 60,000 by 2018.
But VoucherCodesPro's survey of 2,634 people found that almost 20 percent said they had stolen items via self-service checkouts in the past – and over half said they did so because they were less likely to be caught.
Some 57 percent said they were driven to stealing an item because it would not scan. According to the poll, the average person who does steal thieves £15 worth of products per month.
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But despite the apparent ease with which shoppers are able to take advantage of the technology, lawyers were quick to point out that the act is still stealing.
"Theft is taking someone else's property without their consent – the way that something is stolen does not change that," Mike Schwarz, a partner at Bindmans solicitors, told CNBC.
If caught, offenders could be charged with theft and, depending on the severity of the offence and the number of times they have been caught, could be fined, receive a criminal record or even face jail.
Schwarz added, however, that the research did not come as a surprise.
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"The temptation to steal from a self-service checkout might overwhelm people," he said. "Plus, a lot of people do not have much sympathy with the supermarkets – which seem to be making a lot of money when consumers are struggling."
According to the poll, the most common items to be stolen through self-service checkouts were fruit and vegetables (67 percent), bakery items (41 percent) and confectionery (32 percent).
However Ian Titchener, who publishes Kiosk Europe magazine about the self-service terminal industry, stressed the issue was not with the checkouts themselves.
"The theft is not down to the technology in any way," he said. "It comes down to the customers themselves and the supermarket attendants – who can't be everywhere at once."
Titchener added that the level of theft would most likely be reduced if supermarkets allocated more staff to the self-service checkout area, which were "obviously under-resourced."