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Stealing at self-scanning checkouts: “I’ve been banned from the Albert Heijn on Roeterseiland”

10 maart 2023 - 09:14

Forgetting to scan a product, and at the checkout saying, “something went wrong.” Self-scanning checkouts have made stealing from supermarkets very tempting, especially for students. “Groceries are too expensive these days. So I steal about €200 a month.”  

“I’ve been banned from the Albert Heijn near the Roeter Island campus for a year,” says Literary and Cultural Analysis student Caro*. Three months ago, she stole a small tray of sushi from the Albert Heijn. “It was only €3.50. Six cucumber sushi rolls. On second thought, it was a bit stupid, most people know not to pick up sushi. They pay extra attention to that.” 

With the advent of self-scanning checkouts, theft in stores has gone up, observes UvA researcher Nick Bombaij

Caro is not the only customer who steals products from the supermarket. With the advent of self-scanning checkouts, theft in stores has gone up, observes Nick Bombaij, UvA researcher on consumer behavior. He says: “People who often steal are casual about stealing at self-scanning checkouts, but theft is a serious offense. In questionnaires, you see that people who steal give various reasons for why they do it. Sometimes they steal for moral issues - that they don’t mind stealing from big capitalist companies. Or because cashiers are being laid off with the advent of self-scans. And sometimes they blame the stores when the self-scanning checkout doesn't work properly, for example.” 


There are no precise figures on the number of thefts in the Albert Heijn, for example, says an Albert Heijn spokesman. “We do not share figures and/or information about measures we take to prevent theft.” Bombaij calls it “a plausible assumption” that people have started stealing more because of the ever-rising prices in supermarkets. “But there is little data on that, so I don't know for sure.”  

Stealing in the amount of €200 a month 

One who has recently started taking products without paying because she can no longer afford the higher prices in the supermarket is 22-year-old interdisciplinary social science student Jennifer*. Jennifer steals “almost daily. Basically always when I’m shopping.” By her own estimate, she takes products from the supermarket for about €200 a month. She often does not scan the more expensive products, such as salad meals. 

Foto: Britt Gansevoort

Jennifer does express fear of being caught. “But when staff comes to check, I tell them I want the non-scanned producers on a separate receipt. Then they always believe you.” Unlike Caro, she doesn't often steal in supermarkets that are busy and frequented by students, "because they often check there.”


To ensure that consumers steal less, supermarkets could take measures, Bombaij says. For example, more checks by staff at self-service checkouts, as well as more security guards. “In addition, some products are more difficult to check out yourself. 

Sometimes you have to weigh veggies and put a sticker on them or tally sandwiches yourself. We see that some people get frustrated when the machines don't work properly. They then take the product without paying. This is then a group that would not otherwise steal.”   

Life as an exile 

Caro’s experience as an exile did change her behavior. “Since being caught, I don't dare go to that Albert Heijn store anymore. They didn’t take me into a back room, but they did take down my name and information from my ID card. Maybe in a few months, I will dare to steal again.” But Caro is not completely deterred because she still commits theft. Albert Heijn has a wide range of products, which Caro says are also ridiculously expensive. “That’s why I still steal from other Albert Heijn stores. I prefer to steal there than from a small entrepreneur selling the same products. Albert Heijn makes huge profits with expensive products on the backs of consumers - small businesses don’t.”


The names of the students in this article are fictitious. Because of privacy and security reasons, they do not want their real names in Folia. Their names are known to the editors.

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