Self-Checkout Theft

Dan Keller

Self-checkouts, sometimes referred to as kiosks, are special point of sale (POS) systems that are operated by a shopper directly.  Self-checkouts at supermarkets or other retail stores have been widely adapted to increase the number of customers who can be served per hour in addition to decreasing labor costs.  It’s estimated that 90% of Americans have used self-checkouts.

Self-checkout terminals or kiosks have contributed significantly to increased shoplifting.  Loss prevention professionals refer to self-checkout theft as “external shrinkage”.


An anonymous survey of 2,600 people reported nearly 20% admitted they had stolen from self-checkout kiosks.  Ease of theft inspires some people to cheat self-checkouts and first-time shoplifters tend to target self-checkouts.


According to Business Insider, self-checkout theft costs the retail industry $1.6B in 2015.  Self-checkout theft is five (5) times more likely to happen than traditional cashier checkout theft.


The likelihood of being prosecuted for petty shoplifting is decreasing.  In 2012, the Dallas Teas Police Department implemented a policy to no longer routinely respond to shoplifting calls for amounts of less than $50.00.  In 2015, this threshold was increased to $100.00.


The problem of self-checkout theft or shoplifting has escalated to the point that some supermarket chains – Albertsons, Vons, Wegmans – have eliminated self-scanning in some of their stores.


Strategies for Self-Checkout Shoplifting:


  • “Banana Trick” – low priced items such as bananas are scanned while placing a higher priced item on the checkout scale 

  • “The Pass Around” – not scanning an item, for example:
    -    Leaving an item on the lower rack of the cart
    -    Leaving without being scanned
    -    Moving items from the cart to a bag on the floor without scanning them
  • “Switcheroo” – remove barcode sticker from an inexpensive item and place it over the barcode of something more expensive and of similar weight.


Strategies to Prevent Self-Checkout Shoplifting:

  • Have attentive and engaging self-checkout attendants – “Let me help you, I think you forgot these items”.

  • Teach employees how to recognize various techniques to shoplift at self-checkout and how to handle shoplifters.

  • Post signs to remind shoppers to scan all items.

  • Provide appropriate shoplifting warning signs and develop a reputation of zero tolerance.

  • Use self-checkout scales to verify the weight of the scanned item matches the weight of the actual item – match the barcode the shopper scans.

  • Use video cameras and appropriately placed monitors to view the self-checkout area – “behavioral modification’.

  • Costco attendants review receipts when a customer leaves the store.

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) linked to video surveillance cameras – recognizes when customers fail to scan items.

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