Retailers are grappling with the increasing challenges posed by self-checkout systems, mostly related to increased levels of shoplifting and stealing. It is a troubling situation for mass market retailers like grocery stores already facing a labor shortage.
Fast Company reports that the introduction of self-checkout systems in retail was initially seen as a forward-thinking and progressive move, promising customers a quicker, more efficient shopping experience while enabling retailers to reduce labor costs. This technology, which gained significant momentum over the past two decades, particularly during the pandemic, offered a dual benefit: alleviating long queues for customers and mitigating monotonous tasks for workers.
However, the reality has been more complex. Recent trends and reports indicate a growing unease among both retailers and customers. A primary concern is the notable increase in shoplifting incidents. Self-checkout systems, relying on customers to scan and register their purchases, inadvertently create opportunities for theft. Even law-abiding citizens might be tempted to under-scan items or input incorrect product codes, not to mention outright shoplifting attempts.
Retail giants like Walmart and Target have been experimenting with varying approaches to tackle these issues. While Walmart has removed self-checkout kiosks in select locations, Target has imposed item limits in some stores. Similarly, British supermarket chain Booths and American grocer Wegmans have scaled back their self-checkout options in response to customer feedback and loss prevention.
Breitbart News reported earlier this year that a Michigan woman was arrested for stealing more than $1,000 worth of items from a Walmart self-checkout lane. In October, Walmart employees complained of the safety hazard of confront customers stealing from self-checkout lanes. As Breitbart News reported:
The new technology targets those who try to steal by improperly using self-checkout machines. If the system detects misuse of a machine, such as purposely leaving an item unscanned, the machine will pause and alert employees. While Walmart has trained its employees to approach customers in a non-accusatory manner to get to the bottom of the issue, several former and current workers have spoken up about what they consider a faulty method for busting thieves.
A former employee posted a video to TikTok explaining how the anti-theft system, introduced in 2019, works. According to a user who goes by Atheniamaria on the video-sharing platform, employees are instructed to disable the register when they suspect someone has failed to scan an item, giving the customer “no choice but to call for help.”
These developments are occurring against the backdrop of significant labor shortages in the retail sector. The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes a decline in cashier jobs due to technological advancements like self-checkout and online sales. This decline is expected to continue, indicating a shift in the retail employment landscape.
Retailers are also exploring technological solutions to mitigate these challenges. For instance, Kroger has deployed artificial intelligence technology in most of its stores to monitor self-checkout transactions and alert staff to scanning errors or potential thefts.
Read more at Fast Company here.