Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?

Self-service in supermarkets means help yourself – to the tune of £3 billion a year

Or just steal it?

Just over three years since I posted about self-scanning, self-service tills, and the opportunities for theft.

The figures just published show that shoplifters are stealing £3billion a year using self-service!

One in four people actually admit to stealing almost £25-worth each month so you wonder about the actual numbers. The level of stealing has doubled in the last four years equivalent to £5 per person in Britain per month usually vegetables, toiletries and dairy products. Northerners  and Scots steal almost twice as much as Southerners

Some of the losses are attributed to faulty equipment which doesn’t scan or register items properly but 40% of the shoplifters said they knew they could get away with it.

With 50,000 machines – 12,000 in Tesco alone – the potential for theft is enormous. And who pays for it? Well honest customers do as prices are adjusted to allow for theft.

The company which carried out the survey said “ Supermarkets need to increase the number of staff who monitor the self-scan check-outs even though the point of these is to reduce the need for staff“.

Call me a Luddite but I prefer to actually pay at a till with some human interaction. All these cost-saving attempts at raising  productivity have loopholes that people will exploit.

Chickens, supermarkets, hygiene & food poisoning: You have been warned!

Naming and shaming does work, eventually!

The number of food-poisoning cases in the UK has dropped by 100,000 a year according to the Food Standards Agency.

After fighting off pressure from the industry not to name supermarkets which sold chicken contaminated with campylobacter the FSA got its act together in the consumers’ interest and published its first league of shame in November 2014.

Although it got off to a slow start with no apparent reduction (see post below) the number of highly contaminated chickens fell by 7% last year compared with 12% in 2015.

The publicity is apparently having an effect with stores using better hygiene methods including selling chickens in roast bags to reduce handling. Some invested in production line technology to reduce infections.

The worst supermarket between August and December last year was Marks & Spencer. It had 9.5% of its chickens with 1,000 campylobacter bacteria per gram, the FSA threshold which defines high contamination.

Sainsbury’s came out best with just 2.6% – a vast improvement on the previous year when it came bottom with 17.6%.

The FSA carries out their surveys quarterly, hence the slight variation in the figures shown in my posts which cover different periods. You can see the full FSA results here.


I like chicken so have taken a personal interest in not being poisoned hence my posting on this topic over the last few years.

Previous post from May 30 2015: Supermarkets in UK still selling contaminated chickens

Despite attempts by the Food Standards Agency to “name and shame” supermarkets there has been no reduction in chickens heavily contaminated with campylobacter, a major source of food poisoning causing 100 deaths a year.

In fact the proportion of heavily contaminated chickens has increased overall from 17% to 21%.

Asda has the worst record with almost 30% of its chickens having more than1,000 campylobacter bacteria per gram. Asda said that one of its chicken suppliers, Faccenda Foods, would start blasting birds with steam and ultrasound which can reduce the bacteria by 80%. However this process will only apply to 30% of Asda’s chickens so you’re playing Russian roulette when you buy a chicken from Asda.

The FSA said Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, The Co-op, and Waitrose had produced plans to reduce the problem and shared some results with the agency – unlike Tesco and Sainsbury.

The results over the last year for heavily contaminated chicken were:

  • Asda 29.7%
  • Morrisons 22%
  • Co-op 19.1%
  • Waitrose 18.4%
  • M & S 17.4%
  • Sainsbury’s 16.4%
  • Tesco 12%

Increasingly chickens are being sold in bags which reduces the need to wash the chicken (which can spread the bacteria) or touch the skin with your hands.

No supermarket yet meets the standard agreed in 2010 of less than 10% of chickens having high levels of bacterial contamination.

Earlier post from 27 November 2014: Supermarket chickens. Not much to choose between them when it comes to infection

The FSA has now released the names of the supermarkets selling infected chickens together with the results of the tests for campylobacter.

It seems that 70% of all the chickens we buy at supermarkets are infected to some degree with this bug that causes food poisoning.

ASDA has come out the worst for contamination at the highest risk level with 28% of chickens affected

Marks & Spencer is next worst at the high level with 22% followed by Morrisons at 21%.

Tesco came out much better at 11%.

All the supermarkets had between approximately 2/3 and 3/4 of their chickens contaminated at all risk levels and no retailer has yet achieved the 10% maximum target for the highest risk level which they agreed to do in 2010 by the end of next year.

Campylobacter is the biggest cause of food poisoning in the UK, responsible for 280,000 cases a year, and around 100 deaths but is easily killed by thorough cooking.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has issued advice on how to store and cook chickens.

See also earlier post on this topic

Both these post previously posted on uLearn2bu

5p plastic bag tax has been effective


Retailers in England moaned about having to charge customers 5p for single-use plastic bags and the government dragged its feet.

P1030059The good news is that since introducing the tax the number of bags in use has fallen by 85% or six billion.

That’s a lot of bags, almost 100 for every one in the UK.

The money raised by the tax goes to charitable causes. Most are environmental projects but some supermarkets have committed to help dementia research at UCL.

Some supermarkets give all the money less VAT to to charity while others make deductions

Overall the scheme has succeeded in producing benefits to wild life and the environment.

England might have come late to the party – long after countries like Denmark, Brazil, China, Mexico, Morocco, sub-saharan African states, Ireland, Wales and Scotland  – but it made good in the end.

Now let’s tackle plastic micro-beads!

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Supermarket prices-confused.com

If you think that you get good value from your supermarkets maybe you should think again.

All the price cutting campaigns appear to be just smokescreens to actually increase the cost of your basket.

The Sunday Times reported on research at Warwick University which examined prices between 2003 until the end of 2010. They found that supermarkets would reduce prices on lots of items by amounts as small as 1p but at the same time increase the price on others by up to 10p.

The researchers think the stores are exploiting the “number blindness” experienced by shoppers faced with hundreds, if not thousands, of price changes.

The ST article gives examples such as Tesco changing the price of Dolmio microwave sauce 88 times over the 8 year period. 40 of the changes were 1p reductions but others were increases of up to 10p.

Sainsbury’s did something similar with Hellman’s Mayonnaise: 46 changes of which 16 were 1p reductions and increases on 10 occasions of up to 10p. Sainsbury’s appeared to have fewer price cuts than Tesco or Asda.

Tesco also came in for criticism from the Grocer magazine which found that over the past 6 weeks Tesco had put up prices on 3 products for every 2 it reduced. Examples were a 35% increase in the price of chicken pieces ie up 69p and up to 35% increases on cooked meat – and all this is during the Big Price Drop campaign!

The supermarkets all claim that they offer the best possible prices to their customers. You make up your own mind.

PS I’ve written before on the supermarkets’ habit of increasing prices and then dropping them but to a higher base level. These price fluctuations are just one example of the psychological ploys used by supermarkets.