‘Basically stealing’: Shoppers’ sneaky tricks
Ask any supermarket staff member and they'll tell you the extraordinary sights they've witnessed as customers go to bizarre lengths to, often unfairly, grab a bargain.
We all know about the trick - we may be guilty of it ourselves - of putting the red capsicums through as the green ones, the red onions as brown, at the self-serve checkout. But many supermarket snaffles go way beyond that.
Yesterday, news.com.au revealed that a Sydney greengrocer had become so frustrated at penny-pinching customers snapping off the broccoli stalks before they reached the checkout, they would charge the culprits double.
As many readers pointed out, broccoli stalks aren't waste at all but are completely edible and can be used in stir frys, soups or eaten raw with dips.
But a former supermarket store manager told news.com.au that snapping off broccoli stalks was just the tip of the iceberg lettuce when it came to sneaky shoppers.
"It should be mandatory that everyone does 12 months working in customer service because it teaches you so much tolerance when all you really want to do is scream at customers and you can't. That's a life skill to learn," said Mike, who used to run an IGA store on the Sunshine Coast.
"The customers who would do the dodgy stuff, you could tell them a mile away. We just knew they were up to no good and were trying to rip us off.
"You were overwhelmed with dread because you were going to have to confront them or deal with when they came to the counter."
One of the most common scams was to for people to tamper with products, such as bashing holes in packets of cereal, and then claim a discount due to the damage.
"You could tell someone was doing it because on the CCTV you could see them hunched over a product, and no one does that normally," the former manager said.
TRUSS TOMATO TRICK
"The other popular one was that customers would pull discount tickets off one item and put them on another. The policy was if it scanned at a greater price than the sticker then, yes, you had to give it to them for lower price.
"Some even wanted it for free."
Mike said it was a constant case of cat-and-mouse with customers. The store began putting product codes on the discount stickers so they would know if it matched up. But then, the person pulling a fast one would tear off just that part of the sticker so you couldn't tell where it had come from.
A Woolworths store manager said he's constantly surprised at the time and effort some people will go to save just a few cents. Similar to the broccoli stalks slicers are the truss tomato detachers.
"Next time you go into a store, look at how many tomato trusses are in the bottom of the crate. They haven't just fallen off spontaneously," he said.
One particularly bizarre trick, a customer told news.com.au, was to use the black plastic insert at the bottom of green bags that ordinarily help keep their shape. Beneath it was the perfect place to hide a Lindt chocolate bar. And should a staff member cotton on, you could plausibly say it must have slipped beneath the insert all of its own accord.
GROSS ACT BY CUSTOMERS
Mike said he was particularly grossed out by the customers who would eat fruit on the way through the store.
"We would get people who would eat stuff constantly - grapes, bananas, apples, strawberries," he said.
"They'd let their kid eat a banana and then give you the peel to weigh. Or all the grapes and just leave you the stalks".
Another trick for the supermarket scoffers was for them to eat the biggest apple or banana they could. They would then pick a far smaller piece of fruit as substitute for the staff member to weigh at the checkout which they assured you was an almost identical size to the one they ate. But it was obvious - comparing one peel to the other - that wasn't the case.
"To add insult to injury they would also give us the remains, like a half-eaten apple core, to throw away."
To try and discourage the nefarious behaviour, when a known naughty customer came in a staff member would be sent to ostensibly stock shelves near them to discourage them.
Mike admitted the cost of what customers were getting away with each time wasn't huge - but it all added up.
"Over a course of a year some of these people were getting away with hundreds of dollars through their cheap little tricks. It's essentially stealing," he said.
More often than not, even though he knew what they were doing, and they knew he knew what they were doing, there was little that could be done.
"In the end you had to give it to them because the customer is always right - a phrase which was the bane of my existence working in retail," he said.
Mike no longer works in retail.
Are you guilty of any sneaky supermarket tricks? Join the conversation in the comments below.
Originally published as 'Basically stealing': Shoppers' sneaky tricks