Coles' bold new move to combat soaring levels of theft, staff abuse

'The majority of customers do the right thing in store – measures like this are for the ones who don’t'

Coles staff at a select number of Aussie stores will be fitted with new body cams in a bid to combat escalating levels of abuse, as well as skyrocketing rates of theft.

The supermarket giant confirmed to Yahoo News Australia the cams, which are currently in a trial phase, are being rolled out in 30 stores across four states.

Staff at "high-risk" South Australian, Victorian, Queensland and Western Australian supermarkets will be fitted with the cameras, that are required to be manually turned on to start recording, should an employee "feel unsafe".

A Coles staffer is seen wearing a bodycam.
Coles staff at a select number of stores will be fitted with body cameras to stamp out theft and abuse. Source: Getty / 7News.

'Most people do the right thing'

A spokesman for the retailer said that by and large, Aussies do the right thing while shopping, with the cameras designed to specifically target the misbehaving minority.

"The safety of our team members and customers is our top priority," a Coles spokesperson told Yahoo.

"We have a range of security measures in place to reduce theft from our stores including security personnel and surveillance technologies such as CCTV.

"Body worn cameras only record once activated. If a team member feels unsafe in a situation, they can turn on their body camera and will inform the customer that they are turning it on for safety."

The spokesman said the trial was "well received by team members" who feel that the "technology would benefit them if faced with a threatening situation".

It's understood the cameras are able to send live footage back to Coles management and are even able to notify police directly of dangerous situations, a measure taken a number of times already, according to the retailer.

Coles advises it has complied with all relevant laws surrounding the cameras, and as shoppers enter participating stores they will be greeted with a sign warning them of their use.

Other anti-theft tech rolled out across supermarkets

It's the latest in a string of new ways the supermarket giants are attempting to stamp out soaring levels of theft, which have increased significantly amid the nation's cost-of-living crisis.

The body cams have also been trialled by competitor Woolworths, who first rolled out the program in 2021 and is now trialling birds-eye view sensors and automatic gates in the express lane, and at self-checkouts to try to catch any customers trying to steal items.

A spokesperson for Woolies claimed the cameras has resulted in a reduction in theft.

"We’ve been using team safety cameras at stores across the country since 2021 (initially in a trial phase), following a doubling in reports of assaults at Woolworths in 2020," the spokesperson told Yahoo.

"The use of these cameras has seen a substantial reduction in the amount of abusive and physical incidents our stores team members have faced. Nobody deserves to be abused at work, so it’s important we continue to seek and expand measures to help keep our team members safe."

Woolworths' new sensor and gate technology in their self-checkouts and express lanes.
Woolworths is trialling a new sensor and gate technology in their self-serve checkouts and express lanes. Source: Woolworths

Controversial overhead AI checkout cameras, fitted at self-serve checkouts in both Coles and Woolworths, have been widely criticised as customers claim the relentless surveillance was “completely unacceptable”.

Last month, a man claimed he walked out of a Victorian supermarket pushing his toddler in a trolley, which was otherwise empty apart from some re-usable shopping bags that had nothing in them. As he exited, an alarm went off and the trolley wheels suddenly locked up.

Following an exchange with a cashier, who checked that nothing had been stolen, the employee "magically unlocked" the trolley wheels with a hand-held device.

Nationally, experts have estimated the cost of supermarket theft to in excess of $9 billion annually.

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