As supermarkets introduce automation, customers have gained control of the purchasing process. Self-ordering kiosks give power to the customer, making them more satisfied with the shopping experience.

The number of self-ordering kiosks in use is growing, and some stores, such as micro-markets, have become entirely self-service. With automation comes potential risk, though, which is why businesses need to know how to prevent theft at self-checkout stands.

There are many reasons someone would steal at a self-checkout, including, but not limited to:

  • Need: If a person can’t afford necessities, they may steal.
  • Feeling Owed: As a Reddit poster put it (and was then re-published in The Atlantic), “There is NO MORAL ISSUE with stealing from a store that forces you to use self-checkout, period. THEY ARE CHARGING YOU TO WORK AT THEIR STORE.”
  • Feeling Anonymous: People may feel the anonymity of the self-checkout gives them power they wouldn’t have otherwise.
  • Thrill: Type-T (thrill) personalities may steal at self-checkouts to break the monotony of their day-to-day routine.

Read on to learn about types of self-checkout theft, nine ways to prevent it, and how GRUBBRR can help secure your checkouts.

Types of Self-Checkout Theft to Be Aware Of

There are many different self-checkout theft techniques. These include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Fake Barcodes: Customers cover barcodes with those of cheaper items.
  • Simultaneous Scanning: This involves piling similar and hard-to-notice items, like greeting cards, and only scanning one.
  • Selecting Incorrect Items: Purchasing fresh produce often means customers choose items from a list on the screen, then weigh the products. They could opt for a cheaper item before weighing.
  • “Forgetting” Items: Larger products are often placed on the bottoms of carts. If there isn’t an employee to monitor, customers could pretend to forget to scan them.
  • Using Reusable Shopping Bags: It’s easy to sneak items into reusable shopping bags before even reaching the checkout, and since they’re often stiff and opaque, employees can’t see in the bag.

Most thieves, however, bypass the kiosk entirely. If no one is doing self-checkout surveillance, it can be easy to take a cart or, especially, a reusable shopping bag right out the door.

How to Prevent Theft at Self-Checkout Kiosks: 9 Techniques

There are many ways to prevent theft at self-checkouts. Some are automatically built-in to the kiosk, while others require training employees on self-checkout theft prevention techniques.

Here are nine ways to prevent theft at self-checkouts.

1. Use Kiosk Cameras

Every self-ordering kiosk is equipped with a built-in security camera.

If the security kiosk identifies a transaction as “suspicious,” such as one with multiple voids or where a customer walks away without paying, it immediately alerts a manager. It can send the self-checkout surveillance video along with the alert, so management knows who to look for.

2. Weigh Items

A lot of self-checkout kiosks help prevent theft by requiring the customer to weigh their items. If the scale registers a heavier weight than what the customer scanned, the kiosk can detect this, capture a picture of the individual, and contact an employee.

This method ensures every item is paid for.

It’s important to note that some stores have opted to remove this kiosk security function because the scale is too sensitive or small. Work with your kiosk software company to figure out a solution.

3. Train Attendants in Self-Checkout Surveillance

Most self-checkouts have one employee assigned to help customers and prevent self-checkout theft.

However, watching for signs of theft can be a challenge, and training and appropriate staffing are essential.

A few self-checkout surveillance techniques include:

  • Engaging with customers: Workers should acknowledge customers any time they see them in the store. Something as simple as “are you finding everything okay?” really tells potential thieves, “I see you,” and could help prevent barcode switching and shoplifting.
  • Asking security for help: If you have a security guard available—and you should consider this for everyone’s safety—employees should get them to intervene with theft rather than attempting it themselves.
  • Looking for multiple card attempts: If the kiosk repeatedly denies someone’s card(s), employees should monitor and ensure the purchase is completed (or items are returned) before the customer leaves.
    • Note: Using multiple cards isn’t necessarily cause for concern or distrust; it’s simply important to ensure the patron pays.
  • Knowing your products: If employees know approximately how much items cost, they could determine if everything was scanned by looking at the total cost.
  • Watching for passersby: A common self-checkout theft technique is just skipping the checkout entirely. Those doing self-checkout surveillance should watch for people who attempt to leave the store without paying.

Some Additional Advice About Employee Training and Store Policies

First and foremost: No theft is worth risking employee and customer safety. Make sure employees know not to chase someone down and to back off if threatened. Losing inventory is less costly than employee turnover due to fear and lawsuits over workplace injuries or deaths—not to mention the ethical and moral implications.

Secondly, employees should undergo unconscious bias training. This is because teenagers and people of color (among other groups) are statistically more likely to be followed or monitored by employees who are looking for shoplifters. However, there is nothing to back

4. Check Receipts

Station a worker at the door to check receipts as people exit.

Costco famously does this; though it’s mainly to check for cashier error, catching thieves is inevitable. Plus, knowing their receipts and carts will be checked could be enough to deter people from stealing.

5. Make Customers Check in to Checkout

You can have self-service kiosks that require customers to sign in before they make purchases. Checking into these secure self-service kiosks can involve scanning a card or an app before making a purchase. This means a customer’s information is readily available before they make purchases and can allow management or security to act if needed.

Some AI-driven stores even require customers to check in before they begin shopping via a keycard system that unlocks the doors, only allowing trusted members and vendors inside.

6. Automatically Flag Suspicious Purchases

Self-checkouts can prevent theft by automatically flagging potentially fraudulent purchases. They can be programmed to stop allowing checkout to continue if a customer:

  • Voids a purchase
  • Has too much weight on the scale
  • Buys an excessive number of gift cards
  • Purchases large quantities of the same item

Many of these purchases are likely to end up being genuine, but better safe than sorry.

7. Utilize Artificial Intelligence

Another way to prevent self-checkout theft is to let AI check customers out instead of allowing them to do it themselves.

You could install a smart store system where items are scanned as patrons leave the store using technology that looks like metal detectors. Or, as Amazon Go has implemented, use software that monitors what customers remove and return to the shelves as they shop—meaning each item is automatically added to their total the second they pick it up.

8. Tell Customers They’re Being Watched

Your kiosks have cameras, sure, but do the customers know about this self-checkout surveillance feature? Some kiosks have visible cameras that make customers stare at themselves while they check out. Other stores have signs stating, “Smile! You’re on camera!” Knowing they’re being surveilled may make people think twice about stealing.

9. Be Kind

Making your environment seem welcoming from the moment a customer enters until they leave is believed to lower the likelihood that they’ll engage in self-service checkout techniques. In fact, it’s part of why Walmart has greeters.

How is this different from engaging with them?

Kindness assumes people don’t plan to steal and involves treating them like valued visitors, while engagement is more cursory and focused on identifying and preventing theft.

Being kind doesn’t just involve employees. Having an overall atmosphere that says, “we want you here,” from signage to cleanliness, can help.

When people feel like you care about them, they’re more likely to care about you. It’s a lot harder to steal when this is the case.

Secure Self-Checkouts for Your Business Using GRUBBRR

More marketplaces are switching to automated checkout methods to save costs and make shopping more convenient for the customer.

However, self-service kiosks might turn some honest customers into shoplifters because they no longer feel supervised by employees.

GRUBBRR’s self-checkout kiosks prevent theft using AI and machine learning. The kiosk is able to identify what items have been placed in the checkout area and charge the customer accordingly.

We also offer cash recyclers so customers don’t need to pay with a card to check out—while still keeping your kiosks secure. The cash recyclers guarantee correct change, are nearly impossible to steal due to their size, and automatically move large bills to a specific part of the safe that’s even harder to access.

If your business is considering automation, we’re here to keep your store safe and customers happy.

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