Since nearly every major retail grocery store has self checkouts today, nine out of 10 customers that walk into any store have used a self checkout at some point. These self-service alternatives to traditional checkouts have become quite popular with shoppers. They all work pretty much the same in every location, and seeking to control their own 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, it’s true there’s 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.
The First Line of Defense: The Self-Checkout Attendant
The single most important step grocery managers can take to reduce shrinkage at the self-checkout lanes is to have an attentive employee on duty. When self-checkout lanes are manned with a properly trained attendant, customer theft can drop by as much as 90 percent.
Much of the theft at self checkouts actually isn’t deliberate, though. 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 haven’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 the unintentional theft that happens when a customer mistakenly places an item in the bagging area without scanning it.
When used in conjunction with security cameras in the scanner scale, security scales can also stop deliberate theft. 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 then 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 manually check the price, the customer experiences delay and cause 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.
In Spite of 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 additional losses from theft at the self-checkout lanes are generally offset by the savings in labor.
With self-checkout lanes, you can have one cashier covering 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 10 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 of those customers, freeing up cashiers to help customers buying more items. Many stores are trying to get 40% of their transactions through the self checkouts to help cut down on these labor costs.
Even with the extra risk of theft with self checkouts, there are other reasons why 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 actually reduce shrinkage in some departments. For instance, it turns out that customers are generally more accurate in identifying organic produce as opposed to regular produce. Customers typically will correctly ring up organic products that cashiers might identify as a non-organic item.
Overall, self checkouts benefit the grocery store and appeal to the customer. By following some best practices in the industry, along with having well-trained attendants at the 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.