This afternoon I was in a Safeway/Woolworths store (an Australian supermarket chain) and the lady on the checkout asked to inspect my backpack on the way out. The conversation went as follows:
Checkout Lady: Can I inspect your bag?
Me: Sure. – I put my backpack on the counter
CL: Could you open it for me?
Me: It’s OK, you can do it.
CL: I’m not allowed to open your bag, can you open it?
Me: I don’t mind, you can open it.
We iterated over the last two lines a few times, when it became clear that no progress was going to be made I asked “Can I go now?” and left.
It seems rather pointless to demand to search someone’s bag if you are not permitted to open it. Not that they have any power to search bags anyway. I discussed this with a police officer about 20 years ago and was told that store staff can do nothing other than refuse to allow you into their store in future if you don’t agree to a bag search. Stores claim that it’s a condition of entry that your bag be searched, but apparently that was not enforceable. Of course the law could have changed recently, I guess it would only require a terrorist threat related to supermarket products (baking soda can make your bread rise explosively) to get the law changed.
The last time my bag was searched was when leaving a JB Hi-Fi store. I had a brand new EeePC (purchased from a different store) in one hand and a bag in the other. The EeePC was identical to ones that they had on display and they didn’t even ask about it. It seems hardly worth the effort of searching bags when anyone can carry out expensive gear in their hand without being questioned.