How and/or should I make amends for my (minor, one-off) shoplifting?
September 16, 2011 11:30 AM   Subscribe

How and/or should I make amends for my (minor, one-off) shoplifting?

I took £20 worth of stuff earlier today from a major UK supermarket. I went through the self-service checkout and bought various things including a bottle of wine. The bottle of wine meant I had to wait for assistance. After 4-5 minutes of nobody coming, with two ill kids and a doctor's appointment to make, I walked out with the stuff.

Completely wrong, shouldn't have done it, should have waited or fetched someone or gone to a manned checkout.

I feel slightly bad about it, but also oddly stressed, as if in a bargain basement version of Crime and Punishment.

Have I got away with this (i.e. chances of them having me on camera?). Should I try and pay them back? Anonymously? If I just stick £20 in an envelope and mail it to the store with a note, will someone just pocket it and bin the letter (not that I could really complain I guess)? If I send a cheque, will I be hunted down? If I do nothing, will I find wanted posters around town?
posted by anonymous to Shopping (34 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You should probably contact someone in the legal profession to answer your questions about what general practice is for security people there. But if you shop there often, you should go and tell the manager what you told us: you inadvertently forgot to pay for an item, identify the item with specificity so they can account for their inventory, and pay them the full value of the item, plus tax.
posted by Hylas at 11:35 AM on September 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Not sure how things work in the UK, but here in the US if you came back offering to pay for something you took, they'd be so shocked they wouldn't care what your reason for taking it was.

Seriously, if you want to save face, just ask to speak to a manager and say your head was somewhere else that day (sick kids, doctor, whatever) and you walked out without paying by mistake. Apologize, pay up, and you're golden. You're the least of their worries.
posted by Rykey at 11:36 AM on September 16, 2011 [12 favorites]

I agree with iambot. I don't think you have to worry about them coming after you for £20 worth of stuff, and if you explain the situation to a manager, I'm sure he/she will be fine with it. Making a big deal out of it would require effort, and I'm sure the manager enough to make a big deal out of it.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 11:38 AM on September 16, 2011

The phrase "Hi, I forgot to pay for this" will take care of all your troubles. I've accidentally walked out with things I didn't see at the bottom of my cart, just go back in, get in line, and no one will ask you a thing, or call for backup, or require a note from your mom, lawyer or significant other. At least here in the wild west of the USA, your UK mileage may vary.
posted by sageleaf at 11:40 AM on September 16, 2011 [8 favorites]

You feel shitty and guilty and like never doing this again because you feel shitty and guilty? There you go, you've made amends.

There's a chance that management will have to get the police involved, if you go and tell them what you did. Not because they are assholes, but because it has to go in the Big Corporate Book and it's their ass if they don't. This depends on the store policy and how much shit the management wants to deal with that day. Maybe they'll take your money and say "thank you", maybe they'll tell you to sit and wait while they call the cops.

You won't go to jail, but you'll get hit with a fine and there might be some sort of horribly Byzantine process for dealing with apprehended first-time shoplifters -- over here you have to take some sort of state-sponsored ethics class that seems to exist solely as an opportunity for senior citizens to trade shoplifting tips with teenagers -- and you might have to take time off work or whatever to deal with it.

Anyway, if this is a big ole corporation, they have a ledger entry for "losses." It's huge because people steal and break shit daily and unceasingly. £20 will not cost anyone their job.

TL;DR Feel bad and don't do it again.
posted by griphus at 11:40 AM on September 16, 2011 [5 favorites]

Nthing going back and explaining that you forgot to ring it up and letting them ring it up then and pay.
posted by rmd1023 at 11:42 AM on September 16, 2011

This is kind of wacky, but you could also go into the store, purchase those identical items, then discreetly leave them there to be restocked. It'd all even out, you know?
posted by argonauta at 11:43 AM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Tell the manager that when you got home you noticed the item wasn't on your receipt. Scanner misfire - it's actually happened to me before. In my case it was a box of Cherrios.
posted by Carbolic at 11:49 AM on September 16, 2011 [4 favorites]

You could go to the customer service desk with your receipt and tell them there was an item missing so you realised when you got home that probably haven't paid for it and can you pay for it now please? Pick a small but expensive item from the cosmetics section or whatever that makes up the price.

That absolves you of theft at the cost of a little white lie. I think what I would do myself is donate the cost of the item plus punitive damages (maybe twice the value of the stolen goods?) to a charity, perhaps using a collection box at the supermarket in question.
posted by nowonmai at 11:51 AM on September 16, 2011

I would probably just go in and say I was totally rushed and stressed and completely forgot to pay for my groceries earlier, then give them the money.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 11:58 AM on September 16, 2011

I've..uh...known...other...people with HORRIBLY BAD MORALS who have walked out of big chain stores with things clearly in their hands and not gotten in trouble. These people routinely go back to said store with no problems. You're probably fine to do nothing if you so choose.
posted by amodelcitizen at 11:58 AM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Okay, you took these items TODAY. Even if you've unpacked them, you can probably repack them up -- recovering the packaging of anything that's been opened or used -- and just take them to the self-checkout lane and, um, pay for them.

I would normally be very much in the "accept the full and direct consequences of the truth of your actions" crowd, but . . . just paying for them seems like a very simple solution. Unless your grocery is very different from mine, no one is going to notice you bringing things INTO the store, especially if you have a reusable bag to put them in.
posted by endless_forms at 12:03 PM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think--call, ask to speak to the manager, apologize, let him or her know you will be sending the $ and tell them that you don't know what came over you--your kid is sick, you were desperate to get out of there, and you sort of panicked.

If you don't have to give your first and last name, I think that's something you want to avoid on the off chance that you get a manager who wants to martyr you for all the supermarket bandits who've gone before. So don't send a personal check, either.

And I do think you should resolve it quickly, before someone gets all jacked up about the security cameras or whether you swiped your card before walking out or whatever -- before anyone is really mad or excited, and before they've gone to any trouble looking into it.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 12:06 PM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Don't do anything! They may have to report it if you make a fuss, for one thing.

Really, this is like cheating on your partner once in a moment of careless foolishness - if it will never happen again and there's no risk of harmful consequences, the best thing you can do is keep it secret and let it alone.

Also ask yourself why this particular thing is such a super-strong moral imperative. Okay, if everyone stole everything then capitalism would collapse, but there's no big business that isn't screwing its workers and using horribly exploited labor to pick and process its products. You don't owe them an especially strong moral debt - comply with their rules as much as possible and let the rest go.
posted by Frowner at 12:07 PM on September 16, 2011 [7 favorites]

You feel shitty and guilty and like never doing this again because you feel shitty and guilty? There you go, you've made amends.

Actually, the definition of "amends" is "reparation or compensation for a loss, damage, or injury."
posted by The World Famous at 12:08 PM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

(Also, someone I know accidentally walked out with an apple the other day - absentmindedly put the apple in its bag into their shoulder bag, picked up a bunch of other stuff and paid for it, and only discovered the apple when they got home. They've been back to the store multiple times since, paying for things each time, and have pretty much decided to write off the apple.)
posted by Frowner at 12:10 PM on September 16, 2011

Of course you've got away with it.

No, don't go back and try and make amends with the shop.

If they can't be arsed to come up with a system that means you don't have to wait five minutes (five minutes of your precious, valuable time) to buy a bottle of wine they deserve to lose money. That's capitalism. If they keep losing money they'll come up with a better system. Think of it as doing them a favour.

Give £20 to charity and foret about it.
posted by ComfySofa at 12:19 PM on September 16, 2011 [4 favorites]

Actually, the definition of "amends" is "reparation or compensation for a loss, damage, or injury."

Assuming the police-related situation occurs, I think the management would be rather glad to not have to deal with the police, fill out the necessary paperwork and generally go through the whole mishegost of being complicit in punishing an apprehended shoplifter who was trying to make right.

Between that and the fact that this person will likely never steal from somewhere, and that includes a store where such a theft would matter to the store being stolen from, there is compensation for the loss.
posted by griphus at 12:21 PM on September 16, 2011

I have legitimately forgotten to pay for something before.

Upon discovery of this (after getting out to the car, lifting my purse up, and gasping at the unpaid for item) I walked my butt back into the store and went to the customer service desk. I said hey, I forgot to pay for this and would like to.

It's happened twice (once I drove back to the store at 9 at night). The first time the customer service rep looked at me like I was crazy (heck my SO thought I was crazy for driving back to the store). The second time a different rep didn't even bat an eyelash.

In the end, I felt better. Even if people did think I was off my rocker.

So I vote for going to the store and paying for the items.
posted by royalsong at 12:22 PM on September 16, 2011 [4 favorites]

(Also, I happen to know from friends who have worked security that it's just not considered worth it to chase down/sue/hassle everyone who does something dodgy - chronic shoplifters or people who are lifting the sterling, yes. They simply aren't going to be interested in scanning their security footage and doing twenty kinds of detective work to find you. Consider your frantic anxiety your punishment....(When I was about six, I stole a tiny sample box of raisins that had been lost from the big box of sample boxes and absolutely tormented myself about it for weeks afterward. I was sure that God would condemn me to hell, that I'd wronged everyone, etc etc. I am familiar with post-theft dread.)
posted by Frowner at 12:25 PM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Just because they're a large company and have theft insurance doesn't make it excusable...that way lies sociopathy.

Holy hyperbole, Batman.

OP, I'd honestly let it go. My advice would be different if you'd discovered an unpaid item in your cart in the parking lot, but that's not what happened. You got frustrated, you stole the items, and you left. You're not going to do it again. There's a small chance you'll get in trouble if you go back and confess and, honestly, I don't think appeasing your guilty conscience is worth that over 20 pounds of stuff.

Forgive yourself, don't ever do it again, give 20 extra pounds to a charity of your choice.
posted by lydhre at 1:13 PM on September 16, 2011

I'm no anarchist, but fuck Tesco*, they're not worth another second of your guilt or anxiety. You shouldn't sweat this, and you should not try and make amends to a company that made £3.54bn last year. Tesco have the undoubtedly done the maths on self-service checkouts. They choose to provide a pitifully low number of staff assigned to man the self-service check outs, causing unnecessary delays, huge frustration for customers, and for sure an increased percentage of stock that walks out of the stores unpaid for. But it still works out cheaper for them. If you want to make a positive change to your future behaviour, stop shopping at Tesco.
posted by roofus at 1:13 PM on September 16, 2011 [7 favorites]

*If it was Sainsbury's, I stand by my comments, but without quite so much vitriol.
posted by roofus at 1:14 PM on September 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Speaking as someone who, as part of a life change, had to go back and make very similar amends, and also has to counsel certain people in making these exact types of amends, it really depends on how much space it's renting in your head. Without knowing you, if it's bothering you to the point you are making a post on MeFi about it, then you probably just need to suck up the shitty thing you did, go back to the store, ask to speak to a manager, and explain honestly what you did and that you want to make things right by paying for items you stole. You don't have to get into justifications (reasonable or not), as really, the reason you feel bad is that you stole several things from someone, and your internal moral code won't allow you to just move on. Hiding behind "I forgot to pay" and anonymously mailing money, won't, from my experiences, assuage the moral damage done, though it will nominally make you feel better. I know people who have tried this, and although time eventually heals all wounds, they do get twinges of guilt from time to time even after these reparations because they were based on avoidance and continued deceit. In all my personal experiences with this, I have yet to see the police called or anyone even get yelled at. Mostly people think we're weird for coming back, and we walk away free of all guilt regarding this transgression.
posted by Debaser626 at 1:51 PM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Mod note: few comments removed - please address answers to the OP, thanks
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:23 PM on September 16, 2011

Do nothing; you've done nothing that warrants making amends. You are more a victim of the original inconvenience and subsequent moral quandary than anyone working for the supermarket is suffering for or cares about the loss of 20 quid they couldn't be bothered to collect.
posted by Abiezer at 2:28 PM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Just go back, explain that you walked out without paying, and pay. You'll feel better, you won't get in any trouble for it (I bet, having done much the same thing myself), and it's The Right Thing to Do.

If you're really nervous I, as an Internet stranger, give you permission to tell a white lie that you accidentally walked out with the bottle in the bottom of your cart, but seriously, they're not going to care.

The crappy customer service is another issue. Write a letter to complain; stealing a bottle of wine doesn't fix it.

Leave "class war through shoplifting" for someone else.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:30 PM on September 16, 2011

Jesus, I've done this. More than once. Just go to the customer service desk tomorrow, say "I was at a self-service checkout on Wednesday, was distracted by an urgent call and realised I left without paying. I'd like to pay now; here is a list of what was in my basket."

Then smile AND STOP TALKING. They will be confused, but nobody will be mad at you.

(I had to do this with 6 bottles of top-shelf booze and a forest of flowers this Christmas - they were under the trolly and I totally just... didn't put them on the belt. It happens!)
posted by DarlingBri at 3:31 PM on September 16, 2011

If you want to make amends to settle your soul then be honest when you do. You did not forget to pay for instance. I can assure you that the manager will be taken aback enough by your honesty to accept the money and be done with that without banning you from the store or calling the authorities. He/she will likely wish for more customers of your integrity.
posted by caddis at 4:53 PM on September 16, 2011

Stealing because you're an impatient entitled grump is pretty worthy of feeling guilty for.

I, former class warfare shoplifter, say live with your guilt, such as it is. You're questioning some important things now, not taking conventional ethics for granted anymore but examining them for yourself. I don't see the point of "undoing" what you did. You did it already and, as many have said, the money involved is ridiculously immaterial to the ethical question. You made a mistake. You fucked up. Own it, it's yours. You're not obliged to share this shame, however, or go through a penance play.

Really, you wanna be a better person than you were in that moment. So fucking do that.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:33 PM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Maybe I should say a frustrated, stressed grump. Still.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:38 PM on September 16, 2011

I would do one of the following:

(1) Go back to the store and say you forgot to pay. Pay the cashier when they ring it up. Have your kids with you.

(2) Mail a cheque to the store for the value of the items, along with a note saying you seem to have left without paying. Make sure your kids know you have paid up.

This isn't just about you. It's about making sure your kids know you did the right thing.

I accidentally walked out of a store with a shirt once and I mailed in an apology and a check. I was quite shocked when I got a receipt in the mail!
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 11:57 PM on September 16, 2011

If you want to avoid the overzealous security guard, you could buy a gift certificate/card and then just cut it in half when you got home.
posted by blueberry at 1:47 PM on September 17, 2011

Next time you go, take your shopping as well as the cost of the goods you took, scan the same value of stuff through the self-service checkout, pay, and don't take that stuff with you. If you feel you can only make amends by paying the store, this is likely to be the easiest way - and one that might not end with them treating you as a shoplifter with all the cautions, fines and embarrassment that will involve. The assistants will just assume someone didn't finish checking out, and the stuff will go back on the shelves.

I have heard of various ways people use to scam those self-service machines (scanning everything by weight as cheap vegetables, etc) and so I'm surprised they didn't notice - but as others have said, they seem to be a way for stores to cut the costs of having staff and I doubt you are the first person with honest intentions to walk away with something they later realised was unpaid for.
posted by mippy at 4:52 AM on September 18, 2011

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