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Man’s capacity for finding ‘miracle’ solutions for problems of his own making never ceases to amaze me! The latest wheeze involves what the Daily Telegraph and Mail Online are calling ‘Big Brother’ style self-service check-outs that tell shops who is likely to steal from them. The details are sketchy right now, but reports have it that Symbol Technologies – who developed self-scan check-outs for many of the big supermarkets – has lodged a patent for a customer profiling program that monitors shoppers. Using statistical analysis and loyalty data the software is likely to predict the types of customers who may steal, and the most vulnerable grocery items.

I bet somebody is feeling really proud of themselves for coming up with that one! First you sell retailers self-service check-outs, then you sell them a tool to predict who’s going to nick stuff as a result of going self-service, then presumably you provide them with more surveillance technology to ward off the thieves. Once upon a time we had a handy little device that could cope with all three of those operations at once. They were called checkout operators! If you paid them next to nothing on zero hours contracts they were pretty cheap to run too, and they performed other tasks for you as well. Like chatting to customers, which has now been re-bottled as customer ‘engagement’ and employs social media drones to generate yards of sycophantic on-line drivel.

Amazingly enough the newspaper reports suggest that store card data will be able to predict who is likely to steal food. Whether that just means poor people with a bad postcode, as well as wealthy chancers, isn’t entirely clear. But even more amazingly it can predict that people are more likely to nick something small like a packet of batteries, than stagger away with a water melon under their coat. The British Retail Consortium said it was unaware of the technology but would monitor the situation closely. Presumably some-one has sold them a program for that too!

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