Is Self-Checkout Tech Turning Shoppers Into Shoplifters?

A new study found that customers who use self-service checkout lanes are twice as likely to shoplift items than those that don’t, according to The New York Times.

Professors at the University of Leicester in England studied nearly 12 million shopping trips from 2013 to 2015 in the U.S., Britain and other parts of Europe and discovered that self-check lanes offered “ready-made excuses” for customers to take merchandise without paying for it. In fact, the loss rate when customers used self-checkout lanes or smartphone apps to pay for merchandise was 4 percent, more than double the normal rate.

Self-checkout lanes in grocery stores and other retailers have been around for more than 10 years now, but according to the study, the fact that a human cashier does not oversee the transaction makes shoppers perceive the threat of being caught shoplifting items as less risky, which might actually encourage customers who would normally never shoplift to do just that.

With the average profit margin of European grocery stores at 3 percent, when you factor in the 4 percent loss rate associated with self-checkout lanes, it’s almost as though retailers are paying their customers to steal from them.

“Retailers could find themselves accused of making theft so easy that some customers who would normally — and happily — pay are tempted to commit crime, especially when they feel ‘justified’ in doing it,” according to the study.

The National Retail Federation estimated that about $17 billion in lost sales was connected to shoplifting in 2015.

“Both loved and loathed by consumers, with the phrase ‘unexpected item in the bagging area’ striking dread into many a shopper, self-scan technologies are growing in use and likely to become even more prominent,” Adrian Beck, one of the professors who helped write the report, told NYT.



The How We Shop Report, a PYMNTS collaboration with PayPal, aims to understand how consumers of all ages and incomes are shifting to shopping and paying online in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our research builds on a series of studies conducted since March, surveying more than 16,000 consumers on how their shopping habits and payments preferences are changing as the crisis continues. This report focuses on our latest survey of 2,163 respondents and examines how their increased appetite for online commerce and digital touchless methods, such as QR codes, contactless cards and digital wallets, is poised to shape the post-pandemic economy.

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