Improving security in self-checkout areas

Article by John Hicks | 20th September 2021

The UK is fast becoming a nation of self-checkout enthusiasts. In recent years, the the technology has exploded in popularity:

  • 95% of UK shoppers have used self-service at some point
  • 65% would like to see more self checkouts in supermarkets
  • 70% would be interested in using a ‘scan and go’ app to increase automation 

This trend has been further accelerated by the pandemic. Safety concerns have made customers eager to spend as little time as possible in stores. Many have turned to self-checkouts as a way to avoid long queues:

  • 57% of self-checkout users say that speed is the main advantage
  • 32%  say that they reduce queuing time
  • 79% of customers who switched to self-service during the pandemic plan to continue using it afterwards 

In some ways, this is positive news for retailers. Self-checkouts take up a fraction of the space of traditional checkouts, and a single colleague can oversee multiple positions. This will be especially helpful this winter when colleague numbers are likely to be tight.  However, this is only part of the story. 

Find out more about coping with a reduced team: 

Self-checkouts are a mixed blessing

Self checkouts may be popular with customers, but they are not without their drawbacks. Many customers like the idea of self-checkouts, but find them frustrating in practice:

Self-checkouts can also be problematic for retailers.  Around a quarter of all self-checkout purchases require colleague authorisation. This means that colleagues spend a lot of time rushing between checkouts. These frequent interruptions can make it difficult to complete other tasks. 

This is frustrating but it pales in comparison to the main drawback of self-checkouts: they encourage crime.

  • A 2014 study by the Home Office found that supermarkets with self-service checkouts were 32% more likely to experience shoplifting
  • A 2018 survey of UK shoppers found that a quarter had stolen from a self-checkout at least once
  • UK shoppers steal an estimated £3.2 billion worth of goods every year from self-checkouts

The problem with self-service machines is that they encourage otherwise law-abiding people to steal. The temptation to put through an expensive item as something cheaper can be hard to resist. In fact, many shoppers don’t even consider this to be stealing. 

Adrian Beck is a criminology professor at the University of Leicester. In 2016 he published a detailed study into the link between self-checkouts and shoplifting. Here he explains the phenomenon:

“It’s about the degree of opportunity it provides people who wouldn’t normally do something deviant. It presents them with opportunities they wouldn’t normally have.”

VoCoVo makes life harder for criminals

Self-checkout fraud may not seem like a big deal to customers, but it can have a huge impact on your profits. In 2019, shoplifting cost UK retailers £770 million. A substantial proportion of this is likely to have occurred at self-checkouts. 

So what can you do? Self-checkout theft is what criminologists call a “crime of opportunity”. Customers don’t come into the store planning to steal. The opportunity presents itself and they make a snap decision. The key to reducing self-checkout theft is eliminating these opportunities. This is where we can help:

  • Headsets allow colleagues to call security without leaving the self-checkout area. This means that other criminals can’t take advantage of the distraction. 
  • Colleagues can authorise purchases from anywhere in sight of the checkout using their headsets. This means that they can monitor all checkouts at once, rather than having to focus on one at a time. 
  • Smart CCTV cameras can be linked to headsets. If a camera spots suspicious behaviour at the self-checkout, an automated alert will be sent to all nearby colleagues. 
  • Headsets are highly visible, acting as a deterrent to spur of the moment crimes

More self-checkouts doesn’t have to mean more crime. VoCoVo lets you enjoy the benefits of SCOs without giving shoplifters an easy ride. Get in touch today to find out more.

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