When I was a child, I never even stole from the Woolworth’s pick’n’mix . I was mortified at the idea – but somehow, things changed in my thirties.
The first time I did the dodgy in the supermarket was a few years ago, when I took the tag off the organic leeks and pretended they were normal leeks at the checkout. I had a buzz on realising I was cheating the system and taking something from them, a behemoth supermarket giant. I realise it’s not high stakes, but now I regularly shoplift.
Perhaps I have a thing for leeks – as my latest light-fingered moments in a big-name store on Monday night included a pack of leeks alongside a large pot of Yeo Valley Greek organic yoghurt. I know we’re not talking about high value, but as they say, every little helps.
The tendency for people like me to take what they can hasn’t gone unnoticed – M&S chair Archie Norman has claimed faulty self-checkouts are behind shoplifting “creeping in” among the middle classes.
The former MP said customers were tempted to leave without paying when the machines failed to scan products. “With the reduction of service you get in a lot of shops, a lot of people think: ‘This didn’t scan properly, or it’s very difficult to scan these things through and I shop here all the time. It’s not my fault, I’m owed it’,” he said. He’s right.
You see, I don’t even see it as shoplifting: people like me don’t do that. I’m a nice middle-class woman with young children! I am entirely unextraordinary – we’re not on the breadline, but food is still expensive. We are the very definition of the “squeezed middle”.
I realised how easy it was when I downloaded an app from a leading supermarket where they trust you to do everything yourself. What is this magical thing? You scan the items, bag them, and then just check yourself out. I didn’t even consciously steal things at first, it was a genuine mistake – in a haze of walking round the supermarket with “two-under-two”. The first time I realised I’d done it I was mortified, and then a little bit excited. But I didn’t stop myself from doing it again.
You see, it is so easy. I’ve stolen baby grows, bibs, waterwipes, tins of tomatoes (the posh brands), linwoods seed mix, organic salmon (that’s never security tagged like the meat), sourdough crumpets, organic milk, a huge assortment of vegetables (no one ever checks the ginger), toilet paper, butter (that has gotten SO expensive), the list goes on. I have always been very lucky that I’ve never needed to worry about how much I spend on groceries, but the cost of living is painful and definitely on my mind now.
Having small children was first a genuine reason, then a good ruse – I could easily slip something in the bottom of the buggy without much thought, and if they checked I would just blame it on the kids – or the sleep deprivation they cause.
Now, it’s more considered: my shopping seems to get checked on every five or so occasions, so I don’t “lift” on every shop. I never do it after I’ve been away, or if I’m not in my “home” supermarket. I have rules. One of my latest ways to steal without fear is to put a selection of items to one side in the trolley, unscanned, and to say that the item “wasn’t recognised” if I get checked. I even screenshot a red alert if it comes up which instructs me to do just that – so I have evidence.
And if they don’t check? Well, I just confidently walk out, buzzing inside at the money I’ve “saved”, smiling broadly at the security guard as I leave. I’m not stupid, I realise that it won’t save money in the long run – that over all, supermarkets will push up the price of groceries even more and we’ll all be worse off for it. But that sense of collective impact doesn’t seem to stop me. It’s my shameful secret – my partner was mortified when I told him. He thinks I’ve stopped. My friends and family would be horrified that someone like me does this, but I still do it.
I’m not all bad. I would only do this in a supermarket chain, rather than any family-run small business. In contrast to this, if I’m short-changed on a bill in an independent cafe or restaurant, I always draw their attention to it. If there’s been a pricing mistake in a small clothing store, I never let it slide. My honesty goes into overdrive in these situations, because I want the little guys to do well. And perhaps that’s my issue. The greed of the multinationals – I want something from them, and this is my way of taking it.