Self-checkouts and theft

Woods Supermarkets fight back with StopLift
Monday, February 24, 2014

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.—Scan-avoidance thefts at supermarket self-checkouts are up to five times more prevalent than those at manned POS counters, according to Malay Kundu, founder and president of StopLift Checkout Vision Systems, based here.

“Self-checkout is completely open to abuse, but it’s here to stay,” Kundu told Security Director News. “I believe that it will become as ubiquitous as self-service kiosks at airports. What we’re seeing are growing pains.”

Growing pains aside, some stores are responding by doing away with the theft-ridden unstaffed checkouts. Big Y World Class Markets, a Springfield, Mass.-based chain, has removed self-checkouts from all of its stores. The Shaw's Supermarket chain based in West Bridgewater, Mass., has removed many.

That’s because the higher theft rate at self-checkouts, lanes designed to lessen customer wait times and reduce employee costs, cuts deep into retailers’ bottom lines, Kundu said.

High-volume retailers, like grocery stores, lose 2 percent of sales to shrink, and that’s a big deal when their profit margins are about 2 percent as well, he said. While some of that theft happens at manned checkouts—from cashiers “sweethearting” by not scanning all items in friends’ or relatives’ shopping carts and by inputting false returns—self-checkout lanes have played a big role, he said.

StopLift offers a detection system for scan avoidance at both self- and manned-checkouts. Overhead cameras record each transaction, scanning is tracked and analytical alerts are sent when a customer or cashier fails to scan even one item. The alert reports can then be used to train employees and to keep a closer eye on repeat self-checkout offenders.

Doug Haworth, LP manager for Woods Supermarkets in southwest Missouri, has used StopLift’s technology for three years. A former supermarket cashier, he said he couldn’t believe his own cashiers were “missing” items.

“We did a trial [with the technology] at one of our stores. I was blown away. In the first 10 days, cashiers missed 40 items. It was not malicious,” he said, just due to the cashiers being distracted.

Since then, each of his nine stores uses the technology. “We get 150 actionable hits a week,” he told Security Director News, referring to StopLift’s alerts.

With self-checkout, managers can see which customers are not scanning, Haworth said. They then can “personally assist” those customers when they return to ensure scan avoidance does not happen again, he said. His staff has learned to give those customers “extra, special hospitality,” he said, by moving over to the self-checkouts to assist them with their scanning.

It’s all too easy for customers at self-checkout counters to “forget” to scan some items or to ring in more costly items such as an expensive cut of meat at the price-per-weight for bananas, Kundu said. Scan avoidance can be intentional or accidental, but either way, it impacts retailers, he said.

Working with retailers on four continents, StopLIift has detected and confirmed 800,000-plus incidents at thousands of checkouts.