Can pay, but will pay? A day in the life of the Heathrow honesty boxes

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Indy Lifestyle Online
THE queue is dead - or at least much shorter. This, WH Smith hopes, will be the eventual effect of a new experiment for selling newspapers: the honesty box. It's certainly one of the more trusting retail innovations in recent years, but are the public playing by the rules? A visit to Heathrow last week, where Britain's first honesty boxes are on trial, provided some answers.

There are two boxes - one at Terminal 1, the other at Terminal 4. Customers at Terminal 1, where the box stands at the entrance to WH Smith, were taking time to get used to it. Some failed to notice it; others inspected it warily before opting to pay over the counter. In the hour before lunch last Thursday, only five people braved the box - two airport staff and three customers, who used it as a receptacle for their unwanted till receipts.

But the idea could not be simpler. You have only to deposit the correct money in the box, pick up your daily, and wander off to spend the time you've saved in duty free. The frustration of waiting your turn behind a stream of people paying with plastic for a pack of Polos could become a thing of the past.

The box has proved particularly popular with frequent travellers and businessmen, and now accounts for about 5 per cent of the store's total taking on newspapers - an impressive proportion, given that anyone who wants to buy additional items has to pay at the till.

Airport newsagents have to cope with up to seven times as many customers as high street stores, many of whom only want papers. Catherine Lister, of WH Smith marketing, said the box was "a customer service improvement, not a money-spinner". But, of course, your integrity is placed under scrutiny.

Check-in assistant Debbie, for one, had little faith in her fellow human beings: "It seems too trusting. I can't believe people will be honest," she said. But Heathrow travellers have turned out to be a remarkably law-abiding bunch.

"We thought we would lose a lot", said Jason Ritchie, news manager at the chain's Terminal 1 branch, "but we've been pleasantly surprised." And, as Ms Lister points out, "newspapers are the easiest things in the world to steal anyway".

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