Self-checkout annoys customers and helps shoplifters. Shops add it anyway

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CNN business

Self-checkout found its way into supermarkets at the end of the 1980s. A decade later, it spread to major chains and drugstores. Now the self-checkout, loved by some and hated by others, has made its way into discount and department stores.

Kohl’s (KSS) is testing self-checkout stations in some stores. H&M added them in three stores and plans to expand the program to more than 30 stores by the end of next year. Bed Bath & Beyond (BBBY) first tried self-checkouts at its New York City flagship last year and has since added it to multiple locations. Zara has it in 20 of its largest US stores.

Also, Uniqlo, Primark and other chains have started introducing self-checkouts in some of their stores.

These retailers are beginning to adopt self-checkout for a variety of reasons, including labor savings, customer demand, and improvements in technology.

Labor is one of the biggest expenses for stores, and they’re trying to save money as costs rise and more shoppers shop online. Self-checkout transfers the work of paid employees to unpaid customers.

Self-checkout stations eliminate some of the need for human cashiers, which is why retail associations typically dismiss the technology. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of cashiers in the retail industry is expected to decline by 10% over the next decade, in part due to the rise of self-checkout.

These stores are also responding to customers who prefer self-checkout and find it faster and more convenient than paying at a traditional till. Millions of customers used self-checkout for the first time during the Covid-19 pandemic to minimize close interactions with employees and other shoppers and became accustomed to the technology.

However, these companies’ attempts to bring self-checkout to stores come with risks, including disgruntled customers and increased shoplifting.

According to a survey of 1,000 shoppers last year, 67% said they had experienced an outage at a self-service checkout. Errors at the kiosks are so common that they have even led to dozens of memes and TikTok videos from customers complaining about “unexpected items in the packaging area” alerts.

Customers make honest mistakes scanning barcodes and intentionally stealing items from unmanned self-checkouts.

“It poses some real challenges,” said Adrian Beck, a University of Leicester professor emeritus and consultant to the retail industry who researches self-checkout. Retail losses are higher at self-checkout stations than at manned lanes, Beck has found.

Clothing and department stores have traditionally relied on hard security tags on merchandise to deter shoplifting. This is a problem for self-checkout: customers are not used to removing security labels themselves, and most self-checkout kiosks are not equipped to do this.

To get around this, some clothing stores are using wireless “Radio Frequency Identification” security tags, known as RFID, on merchandise instead of hard tags.

Stores like Uniqlo have invested in new self-checkout machines that automatically recognize these labels, so customers don’t have to scan products themselves or remove security labels. Customers simply drop their goods into a designated box at the self-checkout station and the machine automatically identifies the item and displays the price on a screen.

The proliferation of self-checkout in price-conscious clothing and department stores has other implications as well.

A retail divide is becoming entrenched, with one segment of customers receiving better service than others, said Christopher Andrews, a sociologist at Drew University and author of “The Overworked Consumer: Self-Checkouts, Supermarkets and the Do-It-Yourself Economy.” .

Although shoppers of all incomes frequent these stores, luxury brands are unlikely to trick customers into doing “quasi-forced unpaid labor under surveillance,” Andrews said.

“Is this an early taste of a future in which the wealthy will have personal service and the working class will have to do free labor to get their food and clothing?”

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