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The Press-News column Feb 3

Taking Self-service to a whole new level.

Are self-service checkouts tempting a lot of shoppers to turn into opportunist thieves? The latest British consumer behaviour study reveals 20% of shoppers regularly go rogue and rort the self-scanning system. In the USA, two grocery chains have recently ditched the DIY checkouts, on the back of mass-pilfering. In Australia, the Retailers Association claims the rise of self-serve has spawned a new breed of thief who “gives themselves a discount.” But in this country, neither Progressive Enterprises nor Foodstuffs will divulge any data on the severity of self-serve swindling. However, a 2012 UMR Research poll claimed 15% of Kiwis admitted stealing from a self-checkout. Strictly for the purposes of this column, I tested out some common “self-serve cheating” techniques, at a Christchurch supermarket on Saturday. ( I hasten to add, the entire transaction was promptly cancelled, post-testing.) Sure enough, weight-based fruit and veg selection pricing remains ripe for rorting – as is the particularly scurrilous practise of plonking your expensive toiletries in the same bag as your brussel sprouts, before it is duly weighed. Despite the addition of extra anti-theft technology to the self-scan bays, it still seems remarkably open to abuse. But you can bet your bottom dollar, supermarkets are constantly weighing up the spate of leakage, against the cost of fully staffed check-outs. Whatever the theft rate is, it clearly hasn’t reached a financial tipping point, yet.

The flag flap.

Forgive me Saint Peter for succumbing to temptation and entering the flag fray. The Prime Minister’s kite-flying is no accident, but a strategic ploy to reaffirm his position as the torch-bearer for patriotism. Yet for me, there are some fatal flaws in his push to supplant our brilliantly blue-bathed ensign, which speaks to our nation’s foundation and the lustrous stars that watch over us, with a stark sports symbol, backed in bleak, funereal black. What is the world’s reference point to a black flag, aside from fly-zapping and jolly rogering? For much of humanity, it’s the flag of death, the fanatical, fear-mongering ensign of Al Qaeda and its hate-fuelled cronies. And the Jihadist flag, with its steely white Arabic script on a black backing, bears a most unfortunate likeness to John Key’s preferred replacement. Far better for our current flag to be mistaken with Australia’s, I would have thought. Then again, isn’t that much-hyped identity crisis simply a searing exposition of the dim-witted, amongst us. It’s a clinically efficient flag identification IQ test.  Ask yourself. Would you trust someone with your flagpole , if they can’t distinguish the difference between a cluster of six steely whites from four muted reds?

Mike Yardley’s current affairs column in The Press. First published on Feb 3.

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