Coles is “aggressively” rolling out new technology that will track shoppers’ every move from the moment they walk into a store.
Overhead cameras, trolley locks, smart gates and, perhaps most bizarrely, fog machines will be introduced in a desperate bid to tackle rising theft.
“If you’re a thief, we’re gonna catch ya,” Coles’ Chief Operating Officer Matt Swindells told A Current Affair on Wednesday.
The changes are set to leave your average supermarket feeling more like a bank vault or maximum-security prison.
The surveillance begins with cameras which start tracking customers when they enter a store, recording where they go and what they pick up.
Once you get to a checkout, hi-tech cameras above the self-checkout machines now track all items being scanned and bagged.
After that, smart gates will lock automatically to prevent anyone with unscanned items leaving the store, sounding an alarm in the process.
Fog machines which set off automatically are also being implemented to deter break-ins, along with trolleys whose wheels lock automatically if anyone tries to do a runner.
The drastic measures are being put in place to combat a 20 per cent rise in store theft, which costs retailers a whopping $9 billion a year.
After a six-month trial, the tech is now being rolled out “aggressively” across Australia over the next three months, Swindells told the program.
The ultimate goal is to make it impossible to steal from a Coles store.
The move comes after the retail giant announced on Tuesday it will also rollout body-worn cameras for staff in another bid to prevent theft and protect its staff after an alarming increase in violent behaviour towards workers.
“It’s important to note that the majority of customers do the right thing in store. Measures like this are for the ones who don’t,” a Coles spokesperson told news.com.au.
“The safety of our team members and customers is our top priority, and we have a range of security measures in place to reduce theft from our stores, including security personnel and surveillance technologies such as CCTV.”
Woolworths introduced a similar bold security measure in a bid to keep its employees safe back in 2021 which was widely praised by shoppers.
However, despite consumers welcoming measures to protect supermarket staff, many have also addressed concerns at the growing number of cameras in stores.
Controversial AI checkout cameras, already fitted at self-serve checkouts in both Coles and Woolworths, have been widely criticised as customers claim the relentless surveillance was “completely unacceptable”.
“I think Coles should perhaps consider other approaches that do not default to surveillance,” said Dr Monique Mann, Senior Lecturer in Criminology at Deakin University and Vice-Chair of the Australian Privacy Foundation.
“Let’s think about why are we seeing increases in people shoplifting? Why are people being aggressive towards staff? People are struggling. At the same time, Coles and Woolworths are recording massive (in excess of a billion dollars) profits amid a cost of living crisis. Maybe they should think about that and try to alleviate cost of living pressures that rather than just expand surveillance and their profits.”
Coles reported a profit of $1.1bn in the latest financial year but a 20 per cent increase in stock losses mainly due to theft.
“Stock loss is a priority and we are taking immediate actions to address this, including accelerating investment in technology,” the company said in its recent annual statement.