Supermarkets in Japan are having a hard time combating an increasing number of shoplifters who use their reusable shopping bags to conceal unpaid goods.
The issue has arisen in the three months since all retailers were required to start charging customers for plastic bags in an effort to reduce plastic waste.
At Akidai Sekimachi Honten, a supermarket in Tokyo’s Nerima Ward, about 80 percent of its customers started bringing their own bags after July, which prompted the store to tighten security against shoplifters.
Many shoplifters simply put groceries in their own shopping bags and leave, according to the store. In one incident, a shopper with a store shopping basket containing unpaid products bypassed the checkout counter and put them in their own bag.
After the incident, the store started using different colors for baskets before and after payment.
Another headache for the store is that some customers who forget to bring their own shopping bags carry groceries home in store baskets.
About 20 baskets have been stolen in the past few months, equivalent to the amount lost in one year before the store started charging for plastic bags.
Some basket thieves showed no sense of guilt. “I’ll give it back to you tomorrow,” a customer said to a staff member.
“We’re not OK with customers taking away baskets as they cost a few hundred yen each,” said Hiromichi Akiba, the 52-year-old president of the supermarket operator.
“We thought we would be able to reduce costs by charging for plastic bags, but we’ve been facing unexpected expenditures instead,” Akiba said.
At a different supermarket in Tokyo, the number of shoplifting cases is on the rise. Over 70 percent of customers decline to buy plastic bags at the store.
“Some customers put groceries in their own bags without using shopping baskets,” a worker at the store said. “It’s difficult to judge whether they are stealing or not.”
In August, a nonprofit organization working to prevent shoplifting created a poster showing appropriate manners when using one’s own shopping bag.
It called on people to enter stores with their bags folded and to use shopping baskets.
“We hope to create an environment where shoplifting does not occur by making the manners widespread,” an official of the organization said.
Yu Ito, a specialist on measures to prevent shoplifting who also works as a loss prevention officer, said, “It has become easier for shoplifters to blend into regular customers as it became normal for shoppers to bring their own shopping bags.”
“Store operators need to create an environment that deters shoplifting by actively speaking to customers to keep an eye on them,” Ito said.