20 May 2024

Sending me off my trolley: Why does grocery shopping feel like Minority Report?

| Jarryd Rowley
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supermarket self-serve checkout

Self-checkouts are supposedly becoming smarter in an effort to prevent theft and keep people safe, but are these new machines doing their job? Photo: File.

Minority Report is a little-known futuristic action movie released in 2002 by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Cruise.

The film sees Mr Cruise lead a division of law enforcement that arrests people for crimes they are predicted to commit in the future.

Cruise eventually gets pinged for a murder that hadn’t even played out and questions about the moral dilemma of punishing someone for something they haven’t done get passed around for the next two hours of film time.

The reason I bring this film up is the new technology implemented in the self-checkouts of Australia’s two biggest supermarket chains.

In the past couple of months, you may have spotted an overhead camera looking at your trolley or basket, taking note of how many items remain. If the camera deems that you are trying to leave with items still in your trolley or that you have removed items from the scale before scanning, it will freeze the screen and force you to wait until an attendant comes and clarifies or rectifies the mistake.

Now, I’m all for supermarkets preventing stock loss. If you’re scanning avocados as onions, you deserve to be punished. These are hard times!

It’s not like Woolworths and Coles are generating billions of dollars each year and insuring their product so even if it does go missing, they break even. No, they need to make sure every guilty-pleasure Freddo Frog is scanned so that you, and most importantly they, aren’t hurting due to the rising cost of living.

We have been told by spokespeople at Woolworths that the technology is meant to streamline the checkout process and keep everyone safe.

“The purpose of the technologies is to streamline our customers’ experiences, assist our in-store team members with checkouts, keep our in-store team members safe and inform investigations,” a Woolies spokesperson said in November 2023.

Since the implementation of these self-checkouts and the doors that lock you in as you try to leave, I have felt less safe and more hostage to these supermarket giants.

Last week, I was forced to stand there as the screen told me to wait for the warden [checkout attendant] to come over to pardon me for my alleged crimes. Upon relaying the video footage in front of me and the warden, it was deemed that my basket was in fact empty and that the camera had picked up the trolley of the person next to me.

Once liberated from the psychological burden of an accusation that I had stolen, I felt like Andy Dufresne liberated from Shawshank. Arms wide open, free to explore the rest of the world. I had paid for my groceries and was eager to dig into the ham-and-cheese roll sitting on top of my bag, only to be stopped by automatic doors locking me in the store in a last-ditch effort to catch me for an offence I hadn’t committed.

Again, the warden came over to check my rucksack for any contraband I might have tried to leave the store with. The warden laughed at me, apologising for the inconvenience, but deep down I didn’t feel like laughing. I felt like Tom Cruise from Minority Report.

I didn’t like this feeling. In the space of three minutes, two machines had told me I’d tried to steal and that I deserved to be publicly embarrassed for what I had done, only to be excused and laughed at by the attendant shortly after.

Similar events to this occurred three times for me last week. As a result, I have concluded I am clearly on a supermarket most wanted list and that they will not rest until they catch me, much like Mr Cruise in Minority Report.

To conclude, I ask Woolworths and Coles: What is streamlined and safe about holding someone hostage for a crime they haven’t committed?

Original Article published by Jarryd Rowley on Region Riverina.

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