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New Survey Sheds Light on Self-Checkout & Theft

Fifteen percent of respondents admit to purposely taking an item while self-scanning.
Angela Hanson
A customer using a self checkout kiosk

NATIONAL REPORT — Self-checkout stations may be convenient, but retailers who install them need to keep the risks of customer theft in mind. 

A new survey from online lending market LendingTree found that 15 percent of respondents said they have purposely taken an item while supposedly scanning. Additionally, while 60 percent of respondents reported feeling remorse afterwards, 44 percent plan to steal items again when using self-checkout, reported Progressive Grocer, a sister publication of Convenience Store News.

This kind of theft issue is widely acknowledged as a problem, with 69 percent of consumers agreeing that self-checkout technology contributes to shoplifting. 

[Read more: Facing Self-Checkout Challenges Head On]

The survey also found that of the 23 percent of self-checkout users who have seen someone steal from the machines, 45 percent did nothing about it.

Notable demographic differences exist when it comes to theft at self-checkout:

  • Thirty-one percent of Generation Z shoppers have purposely taken an item without scanning it vs. 21 percent of millennials.
  • Fifty-two percent of men say they would take items without paying again vs. 33 percent of women.
  • Half of those with children under 18 say they would steal in the future vs. 39 percent of respondents who are not parents.

Food inflation and lack of food access have contributed to theft at the point-of-sale, but there is a portion of the buying public who steal for the sake of stealing, the survey found.

"There's no doubt that some folks struggling financially might be tempted to walk away without paying," said Matt Schulz, chief credit analyst at LendingTree. "However, I think there may be more who do it because they can or because of the thrill of it. I also think that those who did it successfully could be tempted into doing it again. Given there were no consequences the first time, they may be emboldened to do it over and over again."

Along with the concerning ethical issues, the survey revealed positive findings as well. Sixty-two percent of respondents said they like the efficiency of self-checkout and 44 percent appreciate shorter lines. Nearly all Americans (96 percent) have used self-checkout at least once.

[Read more: Drivers Seek Fast, Seamless C-store Experience]

Retailers need to balance the risk and reward aspects of self-checkout as they battle shrink to stay competitive and profitable, according to Schulz.

"While self-checkout is convenient, it certainly poses a risk for shoplifting," he said. "Ultimately, retailers need to decide whether the self-checkout terminals are worth the risk. Sure, they can help the store save money because fewer people are needed to check out customers. The question, however, is whether that savings outweighs the potential uptick in theft. That's a question lots of retailers are likely wrestling with."

Some retailers are opting out of checkout. United Kingdom grocery chain Booths recently announced it will remove nearly all its self-checkout based on consumer feedback and other issues. In the United States, Walmart shared plans to remove self-checkout from some stores in New Mexico, and some Target stores began limiting self-checkout to 10 items or fewer. Additionally, ShopRite restored full-service checkout lanes to stores in Delaware earlier this fall and Costco now requires membership verification and photo identification at self-checkout areas.

Convenience Store News and Progressive Grocer are properties of EnsembleIQ.

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