Coles is introducing body cameras in some of its most high-risk stores as the supermarket giant tries to fight back against shoplifting and threats against staff.
The Australian retailer said the move comes amid a dramatic rise in customer theft, which experts estimate costs the retail industry a whopping $9bn annually.
There has also been an alarming increase in violent behaviour towards its workers.
After a successful trial, the cameras are being rolled out in 30 problem stores in Victoria, Western Australia, Queensland and South Australia.
“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.”
Customers who shop in the affected stores will see staff wearing miniature body-cameras that can record and send live footage back to management when needed.
Body-worn cameras are common in other jobs, being standard issue for many Australian police forces and popular with security guards and bouncers.
Woolworths introduced a similar bold security measure in a bid to keep its employees safe back in 2021 which was widely praised by shoppers.
Extending the use of this technology to retail staff will help keep staff safe and help deter thieves, according to Coles.
“Body-worn cameras only record once activated. If a team member feels unsafe in a situation, they can turn on their body camera and will inform the customer that they are turning it on for safety,” the spokesperson added.
“This trial has been well received by team members who feel that the technology would benefit them if faced with a threatening situation.”
Management would now get a “real time” understanding of what is happening in its shops and to its staff, Coles transformation general manager Sophie Wong told 7 News.
Users on social media were quick to spot a potentially awkward flaw in the body-cam plan.
“I have no problem with being filmed as a shopper as I don’t steal, but I would hate to be a staff member wearing that and forget to mute it or turn it off when visiting the bathroom,” one Facebook user commented.
Addressing privacy concerns, Ms Wong said footage from the cameras would not be kept “for any longer than a few weeks” and said the cameras complied with Australian laws.
However, despite consumers welcoming measures to protect supermarket staff, many have also addressed concerns at the growing number of cameras in stores.
Controversial overhead AI checkout cameras, 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 amidst 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.”
“All retailers are experiencing an increase in retail crime, and we’re no exception,” a supermarket spokesperson told news.com.au.
“We have a number of initiatives that we use, both covert and overt, to help reduce retail crime and keep our team members safe in our stores.
“One of them is the use of cameras at the checkout to help reduce misscans, which we’ve used since early 2022.
“The accuracy of the system will improve as it continues to adjust to our store network.”
Woolies defended the move on Monday, explaining the cameras were designed to reduce miss-scans, and making shopping “more convenient and seamless”.
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.