Alan Dee: Let’s be honest, an honesty box is an opportunity missed

Sorry, but the pained protestations of the bigwigs at WH Smith that their punters just can’t be trusted don’t wash with me.


You may have heard that honesty boxes at selected branches of the all-purpose purveyor of greetings cards, stationery and the odd book or newspaper have been scrapped because customers were using them more as litter bins than receptacles for the correct change if they wanted to buy a paper but didn’t want to queue.

The tutting about falling standards of honesty and integrity was widespread, but misplaced.

If people are picking up newspapers and walking off without paying, who can blame them?

I’m afraid large sections of the population have little or no idea that newspapers actually come with a purchase price, and you can understand why.

If you travel by public transport in London or many other major cities, you can pick up a free paper to pass the time.

If you’re staying in a hotel, there’s usually a pile of papers for you to peruse – and these are the same titles that expect you to cough up if you want a copy elsewhere.

You might be travelling by air, and once again there’s usually a stack of papers piled up and just asking you to take your pick – and again these are papers which you’d be expected to pay for anywhere else.

And that’s without taking into account free newspapers that are delivered to your door, or available to pick up from supermarkets or other locations, and the huge amount of information that is available for free online.

Sometimes it seems that the only publication that comes with a purchase price is the Big Issue.

So you can understand why, confronted by an inviting display of national papers on a WH Smith stand, some people just help themselves to a copy and wander off.

But that’s not the real reason for many of these honesty boxes to be banished, is it?

Like any commercial organisation, WH Smith has a keen interest in squeezing as much cash out of customers as it can.

And that means it has no real interest in letting punters escape from the premises having only shelled out for one item.

If you have to join the queue to pay for your paper, there are opportunities galore to flog you more.

You may have only popped in for a paper, but they’d much prefer it if you also picked up a bottle of water, a packet of mints, a book of stamps, a birthday card for your nan, perhaps even a magazine or cut-price paperback – and that’s all before you finally reach the till to be offered giant bars of chocolate and other sundry special offers.

That makes an honest box an opportunity to maximise income missed, and that’s the honest truth.