Do you think it’s okay to shoplift given food prices? Survey results may shock

It seems escalating living costs have turned many of us into petty criminals.

Monash University’s Cost of Living and Consumer Deviance Spotlight report has found that increasing supermarket prices has led many people to resort to shoplifting to make ends meet.

But take a bow older Australians, you are the least likely to partake in a bit of five-finger discounting.

Lead researcher Stephanie Atto said the study examined consumers’ behaviour given the economic conditions.

“We wanted to understand if and how consumers are changing their spending habits to relieve these financial pressures, and how justifiable certain deviant behaviours, such as retail theft, are to consumers in the current climate,” Ms Atto said.

Okay with shoplifting

It turns out a good portion of Australians are okay with a bit of retail theft, with more than 25 per cent believing it is a ‘little’ to ‘completely’ justifiable including: 

  • taking an item without paying (28 per cent)
  • changing price tags on products (30 per cent)
  • not scanning some items when using a self-checkout terminal (32 per cent)
  • scanning items as cheaper items when using a self-checkout terminal (37 per cent).

“Fears of opportunistic consumers have been growing among retail businesses who not only face the issue of decreasing consumer spend but also the need to be wary of consumers looking to save money through more deviant means,” Ms Atto said.

However, older Australians were less likely to quietly pocket their groceries, with those aged 55-plus saying retail theft was ‘not at all’ justifiable compared to those aged 18 to 34 who said shoplifting was a ‘little’ to ‘completely’ justifiable. 

Price control proposal

Do the Greens have the solution?

The Greens are urging the Australian government to introduce price controls on everyday supermarket items to prevent price gouging.

Victorian Greens economic justice spokesperson Sam Hibbins said there was a clear case for stronger government action to lower food costs.

He said the government could start by taking on the supermarket duopoly to prevent them from profiteering by unfairly increasing food prices and the Greens would look to establish a parliamentary inquiry into food affordability.

“The profiteering supermarket duopoly of Coles and Woolworths are making the cost-of-living crisis worse, by increasing the price of food and their profit margins at the same time,” he said.

“A number of European governments are taking direct action to lower the cost of food whilst New Zealand is taking on its own supermarket duopoly. 

“Yet the Victorian Labor government is choosing not to act, despite having the powers to do so, and instead are prioritising corporate profiteering over people who are struggling to afford food, bills, and the rent.” 

Grocery referee

Mr Hibbins is referring to NZ’s Grocery Industry Competition Bill, which is seeking to improve competition and efficiency in that country’s grocery industry by establishing an authority to ‘referee’ the sector.

The bill is designed to enable a more level playing field for smaller retailers and new market entrants, allowing them to source and sell a wider range of groceries at better prices.

A similar bill probably wouldn’t get any support in Australia apart from a few headlines. As much as we don’t like it, the first responsibility of any publicly listed company, such as Coles and Woolworths, isn’t to their customers, it’s to their shareholders and, frankly, they are doing wonders for their investors.

Second, Australia is a vastly bigger market and the bureaucracy involved in policing such a proposal would be expensive and unworkable.

Do you think shoplifting is acceptable? Do you think price controls would work? Why not share your opinion in the comments section below?

Also read: Explained: Best cashback website and apps

Written by Jan Fisher

Accomplished journalist, feature writer and sub-editor with impressive knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income, issues that affect Australians planning and living in retirement, and answering YLC members' Age Pension and Centrelink questions. She has also developed a passion for travel and lifestyle writing and is fast becoming a supermarket savings 'guru'.

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  1. There was a Greens member of local council in SE Qld who is on record as endorsing shop lifting. To say such shows a significant moral deficit and one has to feel that he applies such a morality across his life values. (He also gave “advice” on methods to use to beat the checkouts.)
    When we look at the apparently excessive profits of such groups as Woolworths and Coles, to put that into perspective, we must look at percentage return on amount of investment required to make that profit and then one can see that it’s not that great a return.
    A few years ago now a Coles in regional Qld placed CCTV in the back stock room. This simple action reduced “stock shrinkage” by over $50,000/pa. (I’d estimate well over $100,000 in todays terms.) This was solely from staff helping themselves.
    If the cost of living is so harsh on people that they need to resort to theft, maybe they should look at their choices. A full and nutritious meal can be prepared from affordable fruits and vegetables with regular price drops. I like to snatch the Tasmanian Smoked Salmon when it is reduced to half price knowing that inspite of it’s expense per kilo, there’s enough in there for a special treat for several meals. Right time can find the roast chooks in Coles for half price. Six dollars and enough to feed a family of four for two meals (with appropriate filling from potatoes and frozen greens).

    • It would help if the chooks were a decent size. Good one coul;dabeen for getting 2 merals out of a roast chicken.When my wife and I lived in the UK, chickens were much bigger than the ones we have here. We had 2 children, and it was big enough for a roast on Sunday, cold on Monday with veges or perhaps chips, and curried on Tuesday.. Chickens here are overall, small, especially turkeys they really are small. I think the two retailers can’t be bothered to wait for a full grown chicken so that they can be sold, helping their profits

  2. There are very good reasons why the older amongst us are less likely to shoplift.
    1) Baby boomers (58 to 75) are the wealthiest generation since European settlement:
    2) We are the largest generation who own their home without a mortgage:
    3) If we do have a mortgage the amount outstanding is lower than the average:
    4) Renting for our generation is much lower than average so rent increases are not as much of a concern,
    5) We are more likely to be shareholders in Woolies, Coles and Metcash so stealing from them hurts us the most.

    It’s no wonder we are the least likely to steal from supermarkets.

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