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Walmart and Costco Rethink Self-Checkout, New Report Reveals

Intentional shoplifting, commonly referred to as "shrinking," is on the rise due to self-checkout.

At one point in time, self-checkout kiosks were deemed revolutionary by both shoppers and business owners. Long checkout lines quickly became a thing of the past. Awkward small talk at the cash register went away, and retailers were saving a shiny penny investing in machines over paid employees. The rollout was foolproof in theory, but then customers discovered the art of intentional shoplifting, or "shrinking," and so began the downfall of self-checkout kiosks.

According to the Journal of Applied Psychology, the rate of theft at self-checkout kiosks is four times higher than at employee-operated registers (via Zipdo). You may also be surprised to hear just how common shoplifting is. In a survey obtained by Zipdo, one in five shoppers admitted to stealing during the self-checkout process.

With shrinking rates on the rise, it's no surprise that big-box retailers like Walmart and Costco are now rethinking self-checkout lanes.

RELATED: Walmart Worker Issues Warning to Shoppers About Self-Checkout.

"Theft is an issue. It's higher than what it has historically been," Walmart CEO Doug McMillion said while appearing on CNBC's Squawk Box in 2022. McMillion also warned that the retailer might have to shut down some locations and that customers could see an uptick in prices if things don't improve.

While shrinking is the main culprit at play, CNN pointed out that self-checkout machines are prone to customer errors, which sometimes lead to unintentional shoplifting. Many of these errors are innocent: accidentally scanning the wrong barcode; typing in the wrong produce code; placing items in the bag area that weren't properly scanned.

Nevertheless, it's a large and costly issue, which is why retailers are implementing progressive anti-theft measures. And some stores are getting rid of self-checkout lanes altogether. For example, earlier this year, Walmart pulled self-checkout machines from several of its stores in New Mexico, Business Insider reported.

Meanwhile, Costco is amping up security in its self-checkout lanes. Costco members may notice additional staff guarding the area following the increase of non-member attempted purchases.

"Our membership policy states that our membership cards are not transferable and since expanding our self-service checkout, we've noticed that non-member shoppers have been using membership cards that do not belong to them," a Costco spokesperson previously told Best Life. "We don't feel it's right that non-members receive the same benefits and pricing as our members. As we already ask for the membership card at checkout, we are now asking to see their membership card with their photo at our self-service checkout registers."

And yet another way retailers are combatting the issue is by implementing item limits for self-checkout lanes. Target has limited shoppers to 10 products or fewer, while grocery chains like ShopRite and Giant have also added limits.

Self-checkout kiosks aren't going extinct just yet, but shoppers can expect to see less of them, especially at the aforementioned retailers.

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Emily Weaver
Emily is a NYC-based freelance entertainment and lifestyle writer — though, she’ll never pass up the opportunity to talk about women’s health and sports (she thrives during the Olympics). Read more
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