- A lot of shoppers steal products by using the self-checkout lane, The Atlantic writes. According to a recent survey from Voucher Codes Pro, a digital coupon company, nearly 20% of the 2,634 shoppers polled said they had stolen something while at the self-scanning station.
- Some retailers have curbed their ranks of self-checkouts, citing theft and research that shows the systems don't process customers faster than traditional checkout. Big Y and Albertsons are among the chains that have taken this step. Still, the number of self-checkout terminals worldwide is expected to reach 325,000 by next year, well up from 191,000 in 2013.
- Shoplifters use all sorts of different tactics, from putting in a cheap produce code for expensive meat items ("the banana trick") to passing the product around the scanner. According to experts interviewed by The Atlantic, the anonymity of interacting with a robot empowers people who wouldn't otherwise steal to do so.
Ever since the first self-checkout machine debuted at a Price Chopper in Clifton Park, NY in 1992, shoppers have enjoyed scanning and bagging their groceries. Never mind the research showing these systems don't move customers through the front end any faster, or the rampant theft that goes on at these terminals — people like the control that self-checkout provides, so supermarkets have met their demand.
As self-checkout technology has evolved, theft deterrence has improved. But as The Atlantic notes, even the most advanced systems aren't able to keep up with clever shoplifters.
So what can retailers do? According to researchers in Australia, who also recently wrote on this topic, having a staff member in the self-checkout area can deter theft. Posting signs at the front end warning people not to steal can also be surprisingly effective, they write, as can small touches that humanize the experience, like giving self-checkout terminals names or other people-like qualities that can "trigger empathy."
Many retailers have taken the step of posting an employee in the self-checkout area, which diminishes the labor savings these systems provide. But a dedicated staff member can provide customer service in addition to theft deterrence, and could actually enhance the value of the self-checkout area.
Some recent evolutions in self-checkout — most notably Amazon Go — promise a faster transaction process. Kroger’s Scan, Bag, Go and Walmart's Scan & Go let shoppers use their mobile phones or special handheld devices to ring up items as they shop, then skip the front end altogether. These systems also promise to crack down on shoplifting through advanced technology and, in the case of Walmart and Kroger's shopper-scan programs, a final audit by a staff member before shoppers can leave.
But no system is perfect, it seems. Even with its hundreds of cameras and advanced tracking software, Amazon Go couldn't stop a CNBC reporter from accidentally stealing a yogurt on opening day.