The newsagent and stationer WH Smith has said it will be scrapping some examples of its honesty box payment scheme after customers were found to have “misused” the system.
The containers were initially hailed for cutting down on queuing times at checkouts and became popular with commuters in a hurry.
Installed after a successful trial in around 60 of the busiest stores across London’s transport network, including at Heathrow airport and Victoria train station, they allowed customers to grab a newspaper and leave money in a protected transparent box.
But a third of the branches involved will now be removing the containers after they were reportedly filled with foreign coins , chewing gum and bits of paper instead of money.
A spokesperson for WH Smith told The Independent: “Following some increasing concerns about the potential misuse of these facilities by a small minority, we have temporarily removed the honesty boxes from a small number of these locations.”
She said the issue had been highlighted both by staff and other customers, and that a new trial would be instigated shortly to “determine whether these facilities may need to be relocated in a more visible area within the store, so that their usage can be more closely monitored”.
It’s a setback for a scheme which has reportedly been around for 16 years, brought in by a store executive who had seen them successfully used by newspaper vendors in the US.
One assistant at a London branch told the Sunday People they had become “more like dishonesty boxes”, and that all sorts of customers were treating the containers in a way that was “disgusting”.
Joan Harvey, a psychologist at Newcastle University, said the shift in behaviour could be down to the fact that consumers increasingly see big businesses as greedy.
She told the Mirror: “We change the goalposts of honesty to suit the cultural times we are living in.”
Another expert, Dr Melissa Bateson, suggested stores could do more to encourage honest behaviour. She said that when a poster of a pair of eyes was placed above boxes, “we got nearly three times as much money”.
“Eyes give people the feeling they are being watched,” she said.