Shoplifting from Self-Checkouts: Gen Z is Doing It and They Don't Feel Guilty

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Gen Z thinks that shoplifting is a victimless crime, but everyone else pays for their actions.
Updated Jan. 30, 2024
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woman using self-checkout counter

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Gen Z has a sticky finger issue. The generation who loves to cancel people is gleefully ripping off stores. Even though Gen Z has $360 billion in disposable income, they’d rather steal than shop. In a recent survey, 31% of them recently admitted to shoplifting while using the self-checkout. These kiosks often don't always have someone watching what they do, so it’s easy to “forget” to scan items.

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What Gen Z is stealing

According to LendingTree data, Gen Z prefers to pocket small ticket items when they steal from self-checkout kiosks. On the average, they’re grabbing items that cost less than $60. Unscanned items include food, water, snacks, and healthcare-related things. 

Gen Z isn’t stealing big-ticket items as 37% of the survey’s respondents said they take small items. Food, water, healthcare items, and an occasional book (if they’re shopping at a big box store) are tossed into a bag along with things they scanned.

Of 2,000 people surveyed, 46% said they’d shoplift the most expensive item on their grocery list, while many others will just swipe things that they need. 

Why is Gen Z stealing?

While Gen Z has a collective shopping power in the billions, many of that generation are in low-paying jobs and living paycheck to paycheck. The median age of a Redditor is within Gen Z, so you can get an unfiltered view of their thoughts on the matter within a few select communities. 

In Reddit’s IllegallifeProTips2 community, one shoplifter explained why they shoplifted. “I have a job, but I still can’t cover my bills and necessities no matter how many hours I work.” 

In that same community, some members mentioned that shoplifting was the only way to feed their families, but 44% of surveyed said they felt guilty about shoplifting. However, they might not feel that bad since they also said they’d continue to do it.

Then again, some Gen Z’s think shoplifting is normal behavior. One commenter in the Gen Z Reddit stated that “shoplifting isn’t really a big deal. Especially since most of the things taken are smaller inconsequential items.” Other commenters agreed with them. Another said, “Because it’s morally okay sometimes.“ These takes can be eye-opening to many.

These comments echo those of a teen whom Vice interviewed on the same subject. “We have so many companies that don’t care about their customers, only making money.” They continued, “If we can punish the corporation, we feel we have done our best.”

Why is no one willing to stop the theft?

The same LendingTree survey found that 23% of customers on the self-checkout line have noticed other customers shoplifting but 45% of them kept quiet completely with another 37% only speaking up to a manager after the fact. 

The reason could be that 53% of shoplifters are men. Concerned about the possibility of aggressive behavior from a man could deter many from acting. Then again, some consumers follow the “stick it to the man” philosophy and don’t want to get involved. Or, as one Redditor exclaimed, “It’s not my job to enforce the law, so take what you want.”

Bottom line

Nearly one-third of those surveyed from Gen Z admit to stealing from self-checkouts, and many don't seem to show much remorse about it. While Gen Z feels shoplifting is a victimless crime, stores do not think the same. To decrease shrinkage, many stores are doing away with self-service checkout while others are trying to pay closer attention. In the meantime, this seems like a trend that may continue. 


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Author Details

PJ Gach PJ Gach is a professional writer who has over a decade of experience covering the fashion, beauty, and lifestyle beats. Her writing credits include Shop TODAY, GoBankingRates, SPY.com, Reader's Digest, The New York Post, Rolling Stone, and more.

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