Self-serve checkouts promote stealing by those who normally would not, international study

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 17th August 2016

A report into self-serve checkouts written by two criminologists has concluded the technology promotes shoplifting, even amongst those who normally would not consider stealing.

The report, published by the University of Leicester in the UK, described self-serve checkouts and other mobile purchasing technologies as making theft easier by removing human contact.

The criminologists said those who are tempted to steal at self-serve checkouts often use an excuse called the “self-scan defence” to defend their actions.

“Giving customers the freedom to self-scan gives them the opportunity to blame faulty technology, problems with the product barcodes or claim that they are not technically proficient as reasons for non-scanning,” the criminologists wrote.

Self-check-out rage

Another problem of self-serve checkouts the criminologists identified is that when the machines fail it can prompt anger in shoppers.

“At present there are a number of frustration points in the self-serve shopper journey that could trigger disputes with staff – when products will not scan correctly, when staff have to intervene to remove security devices or do age verifications, when payment wallets will not work and when a check audit is requested,” the criminologists said.

The knock-on effect

The academics warned that theft at self-checkouts goes further than profit loss from stolen or incorrectly scanned items.

“Thieves are notoriously unreliable when it comes to updating stock levels when they take products,” the criminologists stated.

The report said available data indicated that mobile scanning technologies, generate significantly high rates of loss, more than 122 per cent higher than the average rate of shrinkage – greater than the typical profit margin (approximately 3 per cent) of the European Grocery sector.

Certain demographics not keen on self-checkouts 

Evidence shows that customer appetite for self-check-outs are limited said the criminologists.

“Indeed, there was a suggestion that in some locations and for some demographics the move to self-serve might represent a cultural shift that could be slow to adopt,” the criminologists said.

The positives

Although the criminologists identified a number of issues with self-serve checkouts and other mobile technologies, such as apps, they were able to confirm shoppers were able to spend less time waiting in line in supermarkets that used the technology.

The report also identified that self-checkouts often freed up staff to be offering better customer service throughout the store.