Jayne O'Donnell, Sarah Meehan
Stores are increasingly adding self checkouts, which can
make it more convenient for many people to shop - and steal.
Walmart and CVS
are among the chains adding self-scanning lanes. But at least two grocery chains
- Albertson's and New England-based Big Y- have abandoned
their self service moves. Both cited customer service as the reason, although
Big Y says shoplifting played into the decision.
Theft - intentional or not - is up to five times higher
with self checkout than when cashiers are working, says Malay Kundu, founder of
Stoplift Checkout Vision Systems, which sells store video analytic software.
Kundu's company has seen people scanning their Starbucks as
bananas, leaving their items in the cart or reusable bag instead of scanning
them and overloading the bagging area so that un-scanned merchandise can be
piled on without being sensed.
Still, most stores aren't ready to give up on self checkout
and many will likely add lanes now that easier-to-use systems that also reduce
the risk of theft are coming, says Joe LaRocca, National
Retail Federation's senior asset protection advisor.
New "tunnel" scanners will allow shoppers to put everything
onto a conveyor belt and have prices scanned automatically, even if on unmarked
produce, says LaRocca. Newer self checkout systems are also more intuitive and
can tell, for example, if items aren't placed on the belt. Besides, loss
prevention experts are getting better at spotting this breed of shoplifter.
"There are ways to distinguish between someone who
accidentally forgets to pay or intentionally moves the item so it isn't
scanned," says LaRocca. "If you see the physical behaviors enough, you know it
when you see it."
Self checkouts in North
America will increase by up to 10% in the next few years, says research and
advisory firm IHL Group. The biggest growth is expected at convenience, hardware
and drug stores.
Self checkout lanes can reduce labor costs and improve
customer service, especially for quick shopping trips. But they can backfire if
shoppers have problems scanning their items, says Kurt Jetta of consumer
analytics company TABS.
Big Y removed its self checkout lanes by the end of 2011
because of complaints about scanning problems and theft. But spokeswoman Claire
D'Amour-Daley says the chain hasn't noticed a change in shoplifting patterns
since it removed the do-it-yourself lanes.
"If they don't find one way to steal, they'll find another
way," she says.