Walmart Employees Slam "Really Uncomfortable" Self-Checkout Experience
The retailer's own workers are speaking out about its anti-theft measures.
Self-checkouts have become a controversial fixture in retail stores across the U.S. Some shoppers prefer the speed these kiosks have brought to checkout process, while others say the do-it-yourself experience isn't actually any faster. In fact, they've been such a point of contention that Walmart recently got rid of self-checkout at multiple stores following backlash. And it's not just shoppers speaking out: The big-box retailer's own employees are slamming self-checkout. Read on to discover why Walmart workers are calling it a "really uncomfortable" experience.
Retail theft has continued to rise.
Over the last few years, companies have become increasingly concerned over the surge in shoplifting. Theft is the main driver in shrink (or losses) for retailers, and the National Retail Federation (NRF) reported that the average shrink rate increased to 1.6 percent last year. Retail theft accounted for more than $112 billion in industry losses in 2022—a significant increase from $93.9 billion in 2021, according to the NRF.
Many popular retailers, including Walmart, have been vocal about the impact of retail crime on their rising shrink levels.
"Theft is an issue. It's higher than what it has historically been," Walmart CEO Doug McMillion said during a Dec. 2022 interview on CNBC's Squawk Box, adding that the retailer may be forced to raise prices and close stores if the situation doesn't improve.
Walmart uses anti-theft technology at many of its self-checkouts.
From locking products up in boxes to chaining entire freezer sections, retailers have tried countless protective measures to thwart thieves. For its part, Walmart has taken its efforts to self-checkout. The retailer installed computer-vision technology at its registers in 2019 as a way to reduce inventory shrink, Insider reported. This technology utilizes cameras in order to monitor registers for items that have not been scanned, and notify employees when items are missed.
The company confirmed to Insider that this is one of their anti-theft measures, but declined to share just how many Walmart stores use this technology at self-checkout.
"As with other retailers, theft is always a challenge, and we're always looking for better ways to tackle this issue. This includes enhanced technology at our checkouts," Joe Pennington, a Walmart spokesperson, told the news outlet.
But employees say it makes things "really uncomfortable."
Insider interviewed seven former and current Walmart employees about the retailer's use of anti-theft technology at self-checkout. They said the technology was very effective at flagging missed scans and potential cases of theft, but also revealed that it can lead to tense confrontations with customers.
If an unscanned item is detected, the machine will pause, a light above the kiosk will turn on, and nearby employees will be sent a text notification, according to Insider.
While they're prohibited from directly accusing anyone of theft, Walmart workers say they are instructed to approach customers and try to resolve the issue if notified by the machine. One employee in Illinois told the news outlet that customers may get defensive when approached about a missed scan.
"It's really uncomfortable, and it becomes, like, a safety issue," she explained.
Dominick Haar, a former Walmart employee who worked self-checkout at a store in Southern Illinois, told Insider that he felt similarly about the experience.
"It was personally uncomfortable for me to notice somebody purposefully not scanning an item," he said. "I just personally felt weird going up and trying to find the right words to put together."
Best Life reached out to Walmart about these worker complaints, and we will update this story with their response.
They are calling on Walmart to provide more training.
Another Walmart employee in Missouri, who has worked with the company for over two years, said she was told to approach customers by blaming the machine instead of them.
"The policy is to take the item away from them and tell them something like, 'Oh, I think the machine didn't scan it.' And if they don't want it, then we take it away. If they do want it, we scan it," she told Insider.
Regardless, the self-checkout technology tends to catch customers off-guard, especially because it plays back a video on the machine's screen showing them scanning items. As a result, it "feels more confrontational than it was before because it's right there—the evidence is right there," the Missouri employee explained.
She said many customers act defensive or confused when she approaches them, but noted that Walmart did not train her on "de-escalation tactics." Many of the employees said they believe the retailer should provide more training for handling challenging confrontations.
"With the right training on how to approach it positively with the customer, they get better results," Haar said. "The honest-mistake customers usually are fine as long as the SCO [Self Checkout] host is friendly and not accusatory in the interaction. Mostly those who are trying to scam the registers are the ones who get upset the most."