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Study: Self-service checkouts encourage theft


LEICESTER, England -- Self-service checkouts promote theft by eliminating human contact throughout the shopping process, especially during the critical payment stage, according to a new study.

In an analysis of retailers in the United States, Britain and other European countries, Professors Adrian Beck and Matt Hopkins of the University of Leicester in England said their research shows that self-service checkouts might generate retail losses/problems in four ways:

  • theft through malicious non-scanning of goods

  • non-malicious loss through non-scan/scanning errors

  • physical and verbal abuse against staff generated via audit checks or system errors

  • transaction frauds/fraudulent use of payment wallets

The scholars noted that in a self-service checkout environment, the sense of risk perception or control is reduced as all elements of the customer journey can be completed without human interaction.

"It gives offenders ‘ready-made excuses’ for non-scanning behavior – the self-scan defense. Giving customers the freedom to self-scan gives them the opportunity to blame faulty technology, problems with the product barcodes or claim that they are not technically proficient as reasons for non-scanning," the professors wrote in their report. "Proving intent is difficult where customer nonscanning is identified and deciding whether prosecutions can be made or not is potentially a legal and customer relations minefield."

Other key findings of the research include:

• Mobile scan and payment is at an early stage of development across most retailers. At present, the focus is mainly on developing a mobile scan option only rather than one that also enables payments to be made via an app (a mobile wallet option).

• There is some evidence that customer appetite for self-scanning is limited. Indeed, there was a suggestion that in some locations and for some demographics the move to self-scan might represent a cultural shift that could be slow to be adopted.

• The potential benefits for customers are thought to be numerous. Not only could self-scan make shopping easier and quicker – through the elimination of the need to use traditional checkouts – it can also offer ways to personalize the shopping experience. This can be done by offering consumers the opportunity to create shopping lists, view their purchase history, receive information on real time store offers, have access to store maps and product searching functionality, and receive and use electronic vouchers, all through an app on their mobile device. 

The study examined 1 million shopping trips. Nearly 850,000 were found not to have been scanned, the report said, making up 4% of the total value of the purchases.

To read the full report, click here.

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