WH Smith scraps 'honesty boxes' because of misuse


WH Smith figures

Newsagent WH Smith is getting rid of a third of its honesty boxes, saying the British public simply isn't honest enough.

Following the lead of the US, where newspapers are frequently sold from vending machines, the company installed the boxes in around 60 railway stations and airports. In an earlier trial at two locations, the company had found that the honesty boxes shortened queues and increased sales - with no increase in theft.

Now, though, the company is removing a third of the boxes, complaining that customers have been filling them with rubbish, chewing gum and foreign coins instead of the correct money. One sales assistant told the Sunday People: "They are more like dishonesty boxes."

Research shows that there's huge variation in the public response to honesty boxes. In 2006, a team from Newcastle University found that people put in nearly three times as much money for their tea and coffee when the box featured a picture of a pair of eyes, as opposed to a picture of flowers.

"I was really surprised by how big the effect was as we were expecting it to be quite subtle, but the statistics show that the eyes had a strong effect on our tea and coffee drinkers," commented lead researcher Dr Melissa Bateson.

"Our findings suggest that people are less likely to be selfish if they feel they are being watched, which has huge implications for real life."

Similarly, an experiment carried out for Ikea last year found that people paid 20 percent more for a cuddly toy if they thought they were being watched. Unsurprisingly, people gave more when told that part of the proceeds went to charity; but they were also more generous at the end of the day, paying almost 40 percent more than in the morning.

It's a principle that's been adopted by several police forces, which use cardboard cut-outs of police officers in supermarkets and shopping centres in an effort to cut shoplifting.

WH Smith, too, believes that people may be more honest if they believe they're being watched, and says it is considering reinstating the honesty boxes in "a more visible area of the store".

10 consumer rights you should know

10 consumer rights you should know