Coles is being criticised over its sudden crackdown on in-store theft with the new measures leaving many customers feeling like a "criminal" as they go about their grocery shopping.
The intense new security changes, which include increased overhead surveillance cameras and the introduction of body cams on workers, have been swift and only increased customer resentment after the supermarket was accused of price gouging and revealed a $1.1 billion profit in the last financial year.
Customers 'insulted' by increased security measures
Social media has been full of unimpressed customers discussing Coles' clampdown on theft which is changing the appearance and process of stores nationwide.
Among the vast amount of shoppers sharing their experiences and addressing the controversy online, one customer compared the new checkout security gates to a sheep drafting gate while another said he felt "ostracised" every step of his shop.
"I went to the self checkout and there's an assistant there with a camera on his vest as if he's some kind of police officer in the US," the customer said. "Then I start scanning my stuff and I notice there is a camera pointed directly at me and also down at what I'm scanning ... I go to leave and I show the guy my receipt and he opens up a security barrier."
Another customer asked online if anyone else felt the situation was "hugely insulting", sharing their belief the only outcome from the change has been to make paying customers feeling like "untrusted individuals".
Do you have a story about the new security measures? Contact reporter Sophie Coghill at email@example.com
Coles not addressing negative customer feedback
The supermarket announced earlier this year it would be taking more in-store security measures to address the ongoing issue of "hundreds of thieves" being caught every week in its stores. However, Coles refused to comment on the impact these changes have had on customers or address the widespread negative feedback.
Instead, the supermarket reiterated the importance of these new measures to minimise theft, as well as other factors — such as a staff safety, which the body cameras aim to protect.
"While most of our customers do the right thing, unfortunately a small number don't," a Coles spokesperson told Yahoo News Australia, before listing the newly installed measures.
"Coles has a range of security measures in place to reduce theft from our stores including CCTV, electronic article surveillance (EAS) and in some stores, new smart gate technology that automatically opens as customers make payment for their products."
Retail surveillance is a 'double-edged sword'
The statistics "speak for themselves" when it comes to how urgently supermarkets need to address retailer theft — with it on the rise by 40 per cent in NSW alone — yet consumer expert and psychologist Jana Bowen said it's a "fine line" between deterring criminal activity and making customers feel guilty.
"The trouble is that at present for retailers the value of surveillance and data has never been higher, but consumer trust and confidence when it comes to surveillance technology and who is accessing their data – and why – is at an all time low," Ms Bowen told Yahoo News. "Retail surveillance is a double-edged sword."
Having "obvious" surveillance has proven effective at minimising the levels of retail theft. For example, theft has dropped by 90 per cent in some convenience stores in London, Jana said, however, the sentiment that retailers don't trust the average shopper results in a "conundrum".
"Targeting the minority thieves with a sledgehammer and coming down hard on them at the expense of making the shopping experience a positive, engaging and enjoyable one for the majority does of course lead to dissatisfied customers," Jana said.
"Customers don’t want to feel like criminals. They just want to get their shopping done."
However, Jana points to the unfavourable knock-on effect retail theft can also have for shoppers, suggesting it's somewhat of a necessary evil to to curb the ever-increasing price of groceries.
"This isn’t just a problem for supermarket management, its also a problem for consumers because theft ultimately increases the costs of goods that consumers are paying at the checkout."
Do you have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.