Belfast Telegraph

Human touch keeps us on the straight and narrow

By Rosie Millard

I was in the supermarket on Saturday. Buying two cheap items (pillows, on special offer) and a pricey one, namely a bottle of bubbly for a special occasion. I walked up to the self-service tills. At which point I might well have thought about slipping the bottle of champagne into the giant pillow bag.

And walking out, thus saving about £30.

Apparently, this is more common than you think.

VoucherCodesPro has conducted a survey which found that self-service tills are turning us into a nation of shoplifters, half-inching around £1.7bn-worth of goods a year.

One in five of us knowingly shoplifts at the self-service till.

While acknowledging that shops will come down on you like the proverbial if you are found guilty of deliberately putting so much as an orange in your bag without paying for it – and thus the question of whether stealing it is worth the heart-thumping stress – perhaps one should consider the nature of the self-service till itself, as one whose innate design means it is easier to stray from the moral compass.

Buying at a self-service till, all bleeps and buttons and strange weighing areas, is certainly a more irritating transaction than going up to an actual person, sitting at a till. Furthermore, the arrival of the self-service till usually means the disappearance of the (costlier) human version, hence more profits for the shop, hence more justification to steal from it, some might think.

This is all quite thought out, however.

And shoplifting isn't always so considered. Possibly, it is the essentially private transaction involved in the self-service till, which makes stealing from it altogether easier.

After all, who is going to see you tap in "One Banana", when, in reality, you are bagging half a dozen of them? There is much less shame in actually taking your food to a till, and "forgetting" to pay for a jar of coffee than hiding in an aisle and slipping said jar of coffee into your bag.

And, if you are apprehended, you can always point to the fact that you are, indeed, at a till and you simply forgot to pay.

Because the thing is that, when human interaction is at work, honesty seems to bounce back into the system.

Take eBay. You post a picture of something nice, online.

An actual person, probably unknown to you, but still someone with an identity and an address, buys it.

Their money arrives in your PayPal account. You wrap up that nice thing and send it off. You don't simply not send it. Or send something inferior. I have bought and sold loads of things on eBay. I have never been ripped off.

How about my latest hobby – house-swapping? What a leap of faith.

What an investment of trust. No, you don't swap credit cards. You do, however, swap a lot of emails.

You may never meet your swapees, but you will sleep in their beds, wash in their bathrooms, eat off their plates. You get to know them in a wholly intimate manner.

Plus, they have allowed you to have a free holiday. Are you going to trash their home? Of course not. They could trash yours. But nobody ever has done.

Quite the reverse, actually. Last time, our guests did a whole spring cleaning job on the kitchen.

They even put noise-cancelling pads on the legs of our kitchen chairs.

You want to discuss shame? That was shameful.

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