Sainsbury's customers voice concern over 'creepy' CCTV screens placed above self-service checkouts

Tom Embury-Dennis
It is understood the customer-facing screens were installed to act as a deterrent to theft: Twitter/The Independent

Sainsbury’s customers are complaining about “creepy” CCTV screens being placed above self-service checkouts at hundreds of the company’s stores.

The supermarket giant insisted the screens, which show people a live feed of themselves as they pay for their produce, were in place to keep “customers and colleagues safe”.

But shoppers said they were “intrusive” and “Orwellian”, with some claiming key pads were clearly exposed if they were to enter their pin numbers.

Civil liberties campaigners called on Sainsbury’s to ditch the surveillance screens, which were branded a “gross intrusion” of privacy and a “blatant attempt to intimidate customers”.

One Sainsbury’s regular, who did not want to be named, told The Independent she had been a customer for decades but was “shocked” to find herself being filmed while purchasing her groceries at a branch in central London.

“Not only does it feel like there is mistrust and that you are potentially guilty of something, but there’s also the fear they will be storing your data.”

She added: “I shan’t be using their self-service machines ever again. I felt violated.”

Another shopper, Alex Durham, said he encountered the screens at an outlet in Fitzrovia, London. The 27-year-old filmmaker said: “It struck me as bizarre really. I don’t want to seem all tinfoil hat, but it just seemed a little bit Orwellian.

“It’s a bit bizarre just to be looking at your face while you’re doing something, because it really feels like someone is over your shoulder while you’re just getting a packet of crisps and a coke.

“It just felt a little bit strange.”

After asking Sainsbury’s about the cameras, he was told they were to help “facilitate a better customer journey”.

Other customers complained on social media to the supermarket. One said a screen “clearly” showed the pin machine, while another posted an image showing a Sainsbury’s monitor displaying a keypad.

“What’s up with recording customers entering their PINs at the self-checkout?” Gabriel Currie asked.

One Twitter user said the CCTV meant "you could see down my top and this image was displayed on the screen".

Complaining to Sainsbury’s, Chloe Heatlie said: “It’s pretty creepy to be frank with you. Certainly didn’t benefit my customer experience.”

Multiple social media users vowed to boycott the machines, and even Sainsbury’s itself, until the screens were removed.

A Sainsbury’s spokesperson said the cameras were part of a “security measure” to increase safety at its stores.

“The safety of our customers and colleagues is really important to us so we have invested in a range of measures to keep everyone safe, and this is essentially an example of that,” she said.

When asked how the move would benefit customer safety, Sainsbury’s said it could “not go into specifics”.

But it is understood one reason for the installation of the CCTV cameras is to crack down on the number of shoppers stealing low-value items. The screens act as a deterrent to customers by making them more aware they are being watched.

Silkie Carlo, director of civil liberties watchdog Big Brother Watch, said: “Sainsbury’s new self-surveillance screens are a gross intrusion of shoppers’ privacy, broadcasting the contents of our wallets and baskets.

“These new cameras are a blatant attempt to intimidate customers and make us feel more closely watched than ever.

“It is absolutely disgusting for Sainsbury’s to treat its loyal customers like criminals, especially as it is now nigh on impossible to get a human checkout. Big Brother Watch calls on Sainsbury’s to remove these surveillance screens urgently.”

Sainsbury’s said it had installed the cameras at more than 300 stores, but refused to say if they would be rolled out to its remaining 1,100 outlets or whether the monitors were proving an effective deterrent.

The supermarket said footage from its self-facing cameras, some of which were installed last year, were kept for 31 days before being overridden.

According to a recent study, £3.2bn worth of goods is stolen from UK self-service tills every year.