21 Aug 2023

Countdown investing $45 million in security after huge jump in assaults and thefts

From Checkpoint, 5:28 pm on 21 August 2023

One of the country's major supermarket chains is investing $45 million in security measures after a jump of more than 300 percent in physical assaults and thefts over the past six years.

Woolworths New Zealand, formerly Countdown, says it's seen a significant increase in aggressive, threatening and brazen behaviour by offenders with a rise in shop lifting and retail crime.

In the same period, security incidents have increased more than 800 percent.

Woolworths NZ head of health and safety Denva Wren told Checkpoint knives were a common weapon to be pulled on staff, and even hand guns - whether real or not - were used as a threat.

"It's amazing what people pull out of their pocket or their bags," Wren said.

"Our team at the frontline are really experiencing a mix of aggressive behaviour - whether that is verbal, physical conflict, concealed weapons being presented and some more even serious threats occurring across our stores." 

Wren said people were struggling with cost of living pressures and many felt like they had the right - or no other choice - but to steal.

Anything "desirable" in a supermarket was a target for thieves, such as meat, confectionary or health and beauty items, she said.

"This is so significant, we are investing $45m over the next three years and a mixture of security measures to try and actually make sure our stores are safer for our team and safer for customers, safer for our communities - and if we can land that well, and make sure we can actually prevent some of this offending and theft, but also the brazen behaviour and aggression towards our team, then it's going to be much better." 

Wren said the team was really excited for the trolley lock system.

"This is smart technology on trolleys that will recognise when a trolley enters a store, when it exits a store and if you have not stopped for long enough to go through a checkout and to pay for those goods, then it will know and it will stop. 

"The best part about it is it'll stop and those people that potentially are stealing or pushing out a full grocery trolley load, none of our team have necessarily had to intervene and put themselves at risk to stop that trolley, so in many instances, people just walk away which is fantastic." 

People walking out of the supermarket with a trolley full of goods they had not paid for was a daily occurrence for Woolworths stores - with it happening multiple times a day at some stores, she said.

"It's very, very hard for our team to be able to see this happen in front of their eyes when they're working very, very hard to make an honest living." 

Wren said Woolworths was conducting a risk assessment of its stores across the country to determine which stores needed the most security measures in place.

While not wanting to delve into exact stores, she said stores in Auckland, Waikato and Christchurch were having "some real challenges".

New camera technology at self checkouts would help determine all items being taken out of the store were being scanned and paid for.