Self-Checkout: Stealing is easy

Cassidy McKnight, Staff Writer

With self-checkout machines suddenly everywhere you may be wondering: with no one there to watch, won’t customers just steal stuff? In short, the answer is yes. While our technological advances have improved a lot of situations in this generation, it can’t change or improve human nature. Statistics say that four percent of would-be sales “go missing” when customers use the self-checkout stations. Grocery stores and supermarkets have extremely tight profit margins, so four percent is a huge deal to them, compared to just 1.5 percent for traditional checkout, according to a report from the U.K.’s University of Leicester. What’s more, in a recent review of shoplifting offenders, 72 percent said self-checkout made theft much easier; only eight percent answered it made shoplifting more difficult, according to the Loss Prevention Research Council, a trade association.

People steal over and over again from self-checkout stations. Some common methods include those with produce, where customers type in #4011, the price look-up code for bananas, while placing heavier or more expensive produce on the scales, such as onions, and sometimes customers get away with putting meat on the scale in the place of bananas as well. Much like the banana disguise, other customers have pulled the barcodes off of cheap stuff and put them on more expensive items. Some may argue that Walmart has people placed at the front of the store to check shady looking people or unbagged items in their cart. But recently, the Lake City Walmart had a television stolen from them at four in the morning, when there was no one watching.

Despite the shoplifting risk, retail industry experts say that for many stores the self-checkout stations are worth the hassle. Shops ranging from supermarkets like Target and Walmart to convenience chain CVS stores to local grocery store chains have all been adding these checkout stations. A recent study has suggested that globally, self-checkout could continue to grow over 10 percent for the next five years. Sales clerks earn $11.70 an hour on average, or just over $24,000 a year. So, while a typical self-checkout set-up costs store owners about $149,000 in the first year, it only costs store owners about $24,000 a year after that, compared to $96,000 year-in, year-out for a more traditional arrangement.

However, not every retailer is hopping on the bandwagon. A few grocery store chains believe that kiosks like the self-checkout stations do not make the same connections or provide the same customer service that a regular human cashier provides. So, with the lack of human connection and the very possible risk of shoplifting, why would big shot supermarkets feel the need to add these machines to do a job that humans are already being paid to do? Another thing to think about: if shoplifting is around four percent during normal shopping times, how do big shot companies expect to handle a crowd like those on Black Friday or during Christmas time? How will self-checkout stations be able to prevent shoplifting during those crazy crowds? The answer is they won’t, and I strongly believe that high-end supermarkets should reconsider letting machines replace real human connection. A few of these stations are helpful, to say the least, but replacing 75 percent of human cashiers will be chaos in times of holiday shopping.