There’s a staggering number of people who believe they can justify shoplifting

Consumers are struggling and many can justify retail theft to some extent.

Consumers are struggling and many can justify retail theft to some extent. Photo: Getty

A Monash University report states that nearly 30 per cent of Australian consumers believe it is fine to take an item from a shop without paying for it.

The Cost of Living and Consumer Deviance Spotlight report comes as many Australians struggle to survive during this cost-of-living crisis, where grocery bills are still eye-watering and people have changed their spending habits.

Monash Business School’s Australian Consumer and Retail Studies (ACRS) group hoped to provide context to the current struggle consumers are experiencing with the report.

“We wanted to understand if and how consumers are changing their spending habits to relieve these financial pressures, and how justifiable certain deviant behaviours, such as retail theft, are to consumers in the current climate,” lead researcher Stephanie Atto said.

The research found that many Australians believe retail theft was justifiable to some degree given the current circumstances:

  • 28 per cent believe it is OK to take an item without paying for it
  • 30 per cent believe it is fine to change the price tags on products
  • 32 per cent believe not scanning some items at a self-serve checkout is ‘fine’
  • 37 per cent believe scanning items as cheaper items at the self-serve check out is ‘justifiable’.

“Fears of opportunistic consumers have been growing among retail businesses who not only face the issue of decreasing consumer spend, but also the need to be wary of consumers looking to save money through more deviant means,” Atto said.

pictured is a graph from Monash about the results regarding consumers attitudes towards theft

Young consumers can justify retail theft on some levels.

Age divide in attitudes

Older consumers, aged over 55, were more inclined to declare retail theft as “not at all” justifiable, compared to other age groups, particularly younger consumers (aged 18 to 34).

More specifically, 93 per cent of older consumer said ‘taking an item without paying for it’ was ‘not at all’ justifiable, compared to only 47 per cent of younger consumers,” the researchers said.

“The remaining 53 per cent of younger consumers felt it was ‘a little’ to ‘completely’ justifiable.

“Similarly, ‘changing price tags on products’ was ‘not at all’ justifiable to 90 per cent of older consumers compared to 45 per cent of younger consumers.”

Although retail theft might be justifiable in the eyes of Australia’s youth, it isn’t an indication or proof that they are the ones who are actually stealing.

The report comes as Woolworths and Coles increase their anti-theft measures in stores.

Although the cost-of-living crisis is hurting people of all ages, young Australians are particularly feeling the burn, as they generally have less savings to fall back on.

A majority of Australians consumers reported their non-discretionary spending had increased in the past 12 months, and 60 per cent of people said they had observed their essential grocery items going up in price.

Consumers are worse off

The ACRS group also found that 50 per cent of consumers are financially worse off now compared to a year ago.

Additionally, consumers are feeling pessimistic about their current and future finances and the expectations of future business conditions.

And 42 per cent believe now is not the time to be splurging on pricier items like furniture, refrigerators and televisions.

“Much of the consumer financial pessimism and changes in spending habits has been attributed to inflation and expectations of ongoing rate increases, which will need to abate before any significant changes to consumer confidence can be seen,” Atto said.

Out of all the age groups, it was those aged 35 to 54 who were the most pessimistic about their current financial situation, with 57 per cent of consumers in that age group being worse off financially now compared to a year ago.

Right now, shoppers are focused on buying the basics, like groceries, housing and insurance and cutting back on non-essentials like clothing and takeaway.

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