Does Self-Checkout Cause More Theft?

If tech is used for efficiency, retailers can save 'leftover money for things that make you less of a target’
self-checkout theft
Photograph: Shutterstock

In addition to debates on whether self-checkout kiosks save labor or please customers, retailers face the challenge of theft.

“I think we’re hearing loud volumes about small groups of retailers who are having challenges,” said Scott Langdoc, global head of convenience and energy retail for information technology services company Amazon Web Services, Seattle. “We have customers that are perplexed by some of the feedback because customers are so demanding of that self-checkout capability.”

At the Dover Fueling Solutions conference in Austin, Texas, last week, Langoc was joined by two other panelists—Jarrett Nasca, chief marketing officer for software development company Grubbrr, Boca Raton, Florida, and Toby Awalt, vice president of marketing at AI software development company Mashgin, Palo Alto, California. The panel was moderated by Steve Van Vlack, director of business development at Dover Fueling Solutions, Austin.

Self-checkout isn’t the reason that people start to steal, said Awalt. It might change where they steal, but they generally steal the same amount.

Even so, if that means these unwanted customers will steal from convenience stores that offer self-checkout, why would a retailer invest?

“I’ve seen the evolution of the self-checkout, and I think there’s been a tremendous amount of improvement in how the actual workflow of self-checkout is managed,” said Langdoc. “You’re not going to eliminate theft or shrink from self-checkout any more than you’re going to eliminated it from other methods of checkout, but it is something that [continuously needs] to be watched and looked after. In certain cases—either location-based or brand-based—there are incremental technologies that are being installed to help manage or minimize shrink.”

Operators say that they expect theft, but the benefit of having the technology is much greater than that nominal amount of shrinkage, said Nasca.

“They’ve recognized the benefit of the operational efficiency of having, perhaps, less labor and realizing that it’s a greater benefit for them,” he said.

If shrink is a problem, instead of abandoning it, think about how to make it more efficient, Awalt said.

“When it comes to whether or not this problem is outside of self-checkout or part of the process, how does technology contribute to a solution?” Awalt said. “If you can make your store more efficient with different modes of automation, now you actually have leftover money for things that make you less of a target. If you have a high-crime area, it might be worth your time to post a security guard. A lot of crime [starts with somebody] feeling like there’s the opportunity for it. It’s not necessarily that they have to stop somebody while they’re stealing, but their presence should reduce your overall shrink. Think about re-optimizing your budget if that’s a problem.”

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