How to Prevent Retail Self Checkout Theft in Your Grocery Store

Since nearly every major retail grocery store has self-checkouts today, nine out of 10 customers who walk into any store have used a self-checkout. These self-service alternatives to traditional checkouts have become quite popular with shoppers. They all work the same in every location and seek to control their retail experience; customers actively seek them out when they're ready to pay for their purchases.

However, many grocery managers are concerned with the increased chance of theft when customers check themselves out of the store. When there's no one watching, does theft increase? Yes, there's indeed an uptick in theft after a store installs self-checkout lanes. However, there are several steps stores can take to eliminate almost all the extra risk, plus realize some big rewards.

Want the rewards of self-checkout without the risks? Let TRUNO show you ways to reduce theft.

The First Line of Defense: The Self-Checkout Attendant

The most crucial step grocery managers can take to reduce shrinkage at the self-checkout lanes is to have an attentive employee on duty. When an adequately trained attendant staffs self-checkout lanes, customer theft can drop by as much as 90 percent.

Much of the theft at self-checkouts isn't deliberate, in any case. It occurs when customers make mistakes in the checkout process. That's why having a well-trained, attentive employee standing ready to monitor and help customers is the best deterrent for a grocery store. Often just greeting the customer and being "present" is enough to deter someone who is set on doing something dishonest. And paying attention and offering help to a frustrated shopper can also reduce shrinkage, however inadvertent. After all, it's hard for customers to make a mistake on the self-checkout if somebody is there to show them the proper way to use it.

Attendants are also out in the open and in a better position to notice and catch items left in the bottom of the basket that hasn't been paid for.

The Security Scale and Scanner Cameras

The security scale in the bagging area is another built-in mechanism to catch both intentional and accidental theft. The scale helps prevent unintentional theft when a customer mistakenly places an item in the bagging area without scanning it.

Security scales can also stop deliberate theft when used in conjunction with security cameras in the scanner scale. One way opportunistic shoppers try to bypass the security scale is to place an item on the scanner in a way that the barcode doesn't register, then manually enter the item as though it was a produce item. Produce varies in weight, and the weight of the item on the scanner matches the weight of the item placed in the bagging area, so there are no alerts. But a security camera that visually recognizes products from an image database will see and alert the attendant, who can intervene.

For many current POS systems, all it takes is a software upgrade to activate image recognition. Standard self-checkouts generally don't last more than five or six years, so most systems will be compatible or are due for an upgrade that will make them compatible.

Additional Best Practices to Reduce Theft

Beyond well-trained employees, scales, and security cameras in the POS scanner, grocery managers should ensure all items are in the store database with the correct price. If an item isn't in the database, and there are no employees available to check the price manually, the customer experiences delay and causes frustration, which could lead to theft.

Keeping the clutter away from the self-checkout area will also reduce theft opportunities. Unlike manned checkouts with impulse items available to grab and buy, self-checkouts shouldn't have small products on display nearby. The self-checkout lanes should also be free of excess signage or other items which might block the attendant's line of sight, thus preventing them from spotting self-checkout theft.

Despite the Risks, Self-Checkouts Have Rewards

Though theft does rise somewhat when self-checkout lanes are installed, studies have shown that shrinkage doesn't significantly increase overall. That's because the savings in labor generally offset additional losses from theft at the self-checkout lanes.

With self-checkout lanes, one cashier can cover four open lanes without any baggers assigned to the area. This means managers can schedule less staff with no reduction in service. And in the case of customers who buy ten items or less—which constitute up to 60% of grocery transactions—these low-profit transactions still take the same amount of labor and are thus costly for the store. Self-checkouts can accommodate many customers, freeing up cashiers to help customers buy more items. Many stores are trying to get 40% of their transactions through self-checkouts to help cut down on these labor costs.

Even with the additional risk of theft with self-checkouts, there are other reasons they have a positive ROI for grocery stores.

Self-checkouts improve customer satisfaction by reducing wait times when shoppers are in a hurry. While a single cashier is helping a customer with 22 items check out in a traditional lane, customers with just a few items can check themselves out. Self-checkout lanes almost always mean shorter lines for everyone, even the customers who prefer to go through a traditional lane.

Finally, self-checkouts can reduce shrinkage in some departments. For instance, it turns out that customers are generally more accurate in identifying organic produce than regular produce. Customers typically will correctly ring up organic products that cashiers might identify as non-organic items.

Overall, self-checkouts benefit the grocery store and appeal to the customer. By following some industry best practices and having well-trained attendants at checkouts, grocery store managers can eliminate most of the additional risk for theft while enjoying a positive ROI.

Learn how TRUNO can help you deter theft in your self-checkout lanes.

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