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Opinion: Is Aldi supermarket in Bury St Edmunds right to introduce security checks at the till?

When I was at Aldi in Bury St Edmunds two days ago it felt less like the weekly shop and more like navigating airport security.

The new system at checkout is that you have to place all your empty shopping bags on top of your shopping on the conveyor so the shop assistant can check they are, in fact, empty.

I then had to wait for my bags to arrive at the till before I could pack up my shopping, with the whole process slowing down Aldi’s usually speedy checkout routine.

Aldi in Bury St Edmunds
Aldi in Bury St Edmunds

I voiced to the shop assistant that I was aware retail theft was a huge problem, but the scrutiny at the till did not make for a pleasant shopping experience.

That night, I spoke to my husband about potentially changing supermarkets but, now more than ever, price talks.

According to the Grocer, Aldi is making this security routine part of the checkout process as it gets tougher on shoplifting in hard-hit stores, and customers who do not consent are refused service.

It is certainly not alone as heightened security at shops seems to be a sign of the times (Co-op is using undercover security guards), but how sad that a budget retailer is having to resort to such measures.

My husband has his own story from Sports Direct in Bury St Edmunds town centre – another store known for being good value.

Making his way up the stairs holding two football shirts to try on, he heard a shop assistant say on a radio along the lines of ‘beware of the man walking up the stairs with the football shirts’.”

Awkwardly, my husband heard this and, insulted, did not purchase the shirts and says he is unlikely to shop there again.

The shop assistant told him they had had a number of thefts there recently.

However, is this increased scrutiny something we should all be getting used to as retailers battle against huge losses to theft?

According to the British Retail Consortium’s Crime Survey 2023, £1.76 billion is the overall cost of retail crime, including prevention.

And only last week did the boss of John Lewis, Dame Sharon White, tell the BBC’s Today programme that shoplifting had become an ‘epidemic’ in the past year.

The action retailers are taking to tackle an increase in shoplifting is against the backdrop of the cost-of-living crisis and no doubt some theft is down to poverty, but organised gangs are also said to be responsible.

What seems clear is that we are all having to pay: through the cost of increased security measures and a less satisfying shopper experience.

But where does it all end? Will checkout security progress to also vetting my handbag, or even a body frisk?

Surely, unless we are acting suspiciously, we should be able to go about our business as usual?

In a well-functioning society we can take for granted the trust bestowed upon us, the customer, but it seems those days are gone.