Shoppers who took advantage of a supermarket that accidentally opened with no staff could be considered part of a "real life candid camera" or patients in a "mad experiment" that explored morality, a professor of religion says.
About 24 people cruised the aisles at Hamilton's Mill St Pak 'n Save on Good Friday morning after a computer glitch incorrectly opened the doors at 8am without a checkout person in sight.
About half paid for their groceries using the self-scan service, but that stopped working when someone scanned alcohol, which requires a staff member to check a customer's age before the system is unlocked.
Police were alerted at 9.20am by a report of people leaving with "truckloads of groceries".
Victoria University's professor of religious studies, Paul Morris, said the Easter-time ethical test placed customers in a tricky situation. "It is like real life candid camera where people are clearly faced with this series of moral dilemmas."
There had been a debate about whether you needed to be religious to be moral, he said.
"The Christian Right have tended to think [that] without the Ten Commandments and God's divining hand we would never have been able to develop a plausible and sustainable morality.
"This [Pak 'n Save incident] is like some mad experiment, because you've sent off to church the religious and it's the secular who have gone shopping on Good Friday ... and you've put them to the test.
"Most acted morally and responded in very appropriate ways by trying to pay by using the self-service area. But clearly others saw that fortune had smiled on them in some perverse way."
Supermarket owner Glenn Miller was initially furious over the incident, fearing that thousands of dollars of groceries might have walked out the door. But after reviewing the shop's security footage during the weekend his mood had mellowed.
"I can certainly see the funny side of it ... but I'd rather not have the publicity, to be honest. It makes me look a bit of a dickhead."
The security footage showed shoppers were not aware that there were no staff in the supermarket, Mr Miller said.
"They weren't in for a free-for-all. They were doing their normal shopping and then got to the checkout. Half of them paid and the other half thought, `this is a good deal' and walked out."
The first customer arrived with a young child, spent 20 minutes selecting groceries, scanned them, paid, and walked out, Mr Miller said. "I still think she probably doesn't know we weren't there. It is the funniest thing. You just have to laugh your head off when you watch."
Professor Morris said the footage revealed nearly all would have paid had alcohol purchases not blocked the self-scanners.
Mr Miller did not intend to take legal action to pursue those who had not paid. "The story has been in the papers ... and on TV, so hopefully that will make some people feel guilty and they will cough up."
All cash handed over would go to the Christchurch Earthquake Appeal, Mr Miller said, though by yesterday no repentant customers had come forward.
- The Dominion Post