Self-Service Checkouts Turn Us Into Shoplifters Unless We See Ourselves On Screen

Image courtesy of Laura Northrup

Let’s face it, shoppers: self-checkout is a common feature, and generally expanding to more retailers. It’s a global phenomenon, which is why researchers in Britain audited transactions to find out the “shrinkage” rate at self-checkouts in several countries, and how to keep the rate lower. Their goal: to keep people from sneaking items into their bags, but without having to pay security guards or watch shoppers closely.

The problem with self-checkout could become even more complicated as retailers move toward mobile checkout and payments. Self-checkout does two things: it makes shoppers feel anonymous, and also makes it clear that no one is watching them.

Possible ways to deal with that problem might be reminding shoppers within apps that the store knows who they are, and periodic random-seeming audits of shoppers when they exit the store.

It turns out that as long as we think someone is watching us, that cuts theft rates. Another group that studies this field, the Loss Prevention Research Council, has learned that stores with self-checkouts can cut theft by pointing a camera at the scanning area, then putting that video feed on a monitor that the shopper can see.

It doesn’t matter whether the shopper is actually being watched in real-time, or the footage is being saved in case of later accusations of theft: feeling that someone is watching, and watching oneself on a monitor, is enough to cut theft quite a bit.

Self-Service Checkouts Can Turn Customers Into Shoplifters, Study Says [New York Times]