askST: Can grocery stores tell if a paid item was bought elsewhere?

Standard barcodes are not unique to each item; shoppers should retain their receipts

Reader Benedict Loh asked if he could be accused of stealing from supermarket B if he took a paid item from supermarket A into supermarket B.

Consumer reporter Jalelah Abu Baker checks with supermarket chains NTUC FairPrice, Sheng Siong, Cold Storage and Giant on this.

While some products, like house brands and fresh items packed in- house have unique packaging and are easily distinguishable, supermarkets will not be able to tell if other, more common items were bought in their stores or other stores.

Supermarkets advised shoppers to retain their proof of purchase, to avoid potential misunderstandings since similar products are sold widely across various supermarkets.

When products have an international standard barcode, which many products like drinks, snacks and canned food do, they cannot be differentiated by which store they came from. The barcode also cannot prove that consumers have paid for the item.

To establish if a potential shoplifting incident has taken place, major supermarket chains typically deploy uniformed and plain-clothes security officers, supported by closed- circuit television systems.

These security officers are specially trained to recognise suspicious behaviour, and observe standard operating procedures in identifying potential incidences of misappropriation.

Suspected cases will then be referred to the authorities for further investigation to ascertain if a customer has shoplifted.

Customers making trips to different supermarkets in the same day should keep their receipts, in case they need to show proof of where they purchased an item from.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 04, 2017, with the headline 'Can grocery stores tell if a paid item was bought elsewhere?'. Print Edition | Subscribe