How Do Stores Monitor Self Checkout

If you are a business owner, consider whether to install self-checkout kiosks to boost efficiency for you and your customers. Decreased labor costs, a smoother checkout experience, and minimal contact are certainly pros for both you and your customers. Artificial intelligence associated with these machines has continued to advance, allowing retailers to identify suspicious behavior from potential thieves. So, how do stores monitor self-checkout?

Self-checkout lanes are usually staffed by at least one person and have overhead cameras above the checkout machines and cameras on the individual machines themselves. Retailers have specific inventory audit systems in place that can help identify theft, as well. 

How do retailer employees monitor these cameras and catch thieves in the act? You may be wondering what types of advances are happening with self-checkout technology. Keep reading to learn more about how self-checkout is monitored.

Are self-checkouts staffed?

Yes, self-checkout machine areas are staffed at retailers. One to two staff members are there to serve many purposes, including answering questions, checking I.D. for age-restricted items, and surveilling for thieves. Membership stores also check your receipts.

Staff members assigned to the self-checkout lanes can stay very busy. Customers buying produce are required to search for the produce code on the screen, select it and then place the produce on the scale to weigh how much they are buying. Once they’ve weighed their produce, they are supposed to place this in the bagging area of the self-checkout.

As you can imagine, many customers need clarification about selecting and weighing their own produce, which is where a nearby staff member can help.

Sometimes customers accidentally scan the same item twice, or the computer freezes because they aren’t putting their scanned items in the weighted baggage area like they are supposed to. A nearby staffer will come by to type in a code to un-freeze the screen and get their self-checkout experience back on track.

If the customer scans an age-restricted item, the screen will freeze. At this time, the assigned staff member is alerted to check their I.D. and then type in a permission code along with the customer’s birthday.

Staff is trained in monitoring shoplifting activity and can intervene in your checkout process to prevent theft. 

Is there a camera at self-scanning kiosks?

Yes, there is overhead video surveillance above self-checkout areas. Some machines are equipped with cameras watching your hand movement and capturing your face.

If a customer knows their hand movements are being monitored, the likelihood of them stealing becomes much lower.

An Australian supermarket called “Woolworths” has cameras as above the self-serve checkout areas and cameras for product recognition on individual machines. Cameras on the machines themselves assist with faster produce identification.

The cameras above capture the shoppers’ movements and will play a live replay of any unusual activity back to you on your screen if you do not scan something properly. A Woolworths representative says all faces and keypads are blurred during the live playback, and customers are not being recorded.

Similarly, Kroger has tested a “skip scan” technology detecting if a shopper did not scan something they already placed in the baggage area. Once this is detected, a video replay appears on the shopper’s screen showing playback of the suspicious activity.

One lawyer advises customers to steer clear of self-checkout stations to avoid potential theft charges from big box stores. The lawyer claims after stores perform inventory and find discrepancies, retailers may search hours of video footage months later and attempt to track down thieves from a store like Walmart.

Which stores do receipt checks?

Membership stores like BJ’s, Costco, and Sam’s Club typically do receipt checks at the door. You might be agreeing to this when signing your initial contract.

The staff is verifying you paid for what you are taking out but also attempting to catch cashier errors. They want someone leaving with an item they paid for or leaving with an accidental charge. This is a form of quality control.

Wal-Mart is also known for requesting receipts at the door.

Can you refuse a receipt check? Not at a membership store in which you agreed to receipt checks. You can refuse a receipt check at other stores, but you may attract attention. The store employee could note your appearance, your shopping time, and other identifiable information about your shopping trip. Or, they may decide to detain you temporarily and can do so if they suspect you are shoplifting. 

If you think arguing the Fourth Amendment when being stopped at a store like Wal-Mart will protect you, think again. Your protection from unlawful searches and seizures is from government agents, not store personnel.

How do stores catch thieves?

So, what happens if you don’t scan something? Evolving artificial intelligence at self-checkouts has increasingly done a better job of keeping track of items already scanned or not scanned because it knows how much each item weighs. You may have heard a machine say, “unexpected item in the bagging area,” repeated until you resolve the discrepancy. 

If you are considering installing self-checkout in your store, consider the major risks versus the rewards. One major risk is shoplifters.

Self-checkout machine technology has evolved to know the weight of any item after its barcode is scanned. Stores can customize the characteristics of internal SKU barcodes. When a customer scans a barcode, the information associated with this barcode has to do with the type of item and its weight.

The machine requires the customer to place the item in the bagging station and then weigh the item again. If there is a discrepancy, the machine will usually audibly voice an error and visually freeze the screen. The customer, surrounding people, and staff are also alerted by this.

If a customer attempts to remove their bagged items before paying, another audible and visual alert will appear, alerting nearby staff members.

Staff in the self-checkout is there if an issue comes up, but they are also staffed to monitor for unusual activity.

Someone posted a video in August of 2021 describing themselves as a former Wal-Mart employee sharing information about the self-checkout process. The person says self-checkout staff carries handheld devices showing the activity at each checkout machine, including scanned items and what has been paid for.

The devices supposedly allow the staff member to “pause transactions,” prompting the customer to ask for help. At that time, the staff member can assess whether there is any unusual activity going on and can decide how to proceed by either alerting a manager or pretending the entire machine is broken and that they need to take their items over to an actual cashier to ring them out item by item.

What’s next for self-checkout experiences?

Investing in efficient next-generation self-checkout machines like Mashgin may be outside your budget. The cost of this technology is $1,000 per month. Convenience store chain Circle K deployed this technology at nearly 500 stores in the U.S. and Sweden. These machines visually recognize and ring up items without barcodes, making the checkout experience extremely fast. A customer places their items on a scale, and the machine does the rest.

A Walmart Supercenter in Arkansas has been experimenting with a combination of a hosted and self-checkout experience.

The customer shows up at the large open space checkout area with 34 available registers. Then, a host greets you and takes you over to a register. You have the option of them scanning and bagging your items or checking yourself out, and the host is there to help you every step of the way.

The Future of Self-checkout Monitoring

Advances continue for technology in the retail self-checkout space enabling shoppers to get in and out of stores faster and retailers to help more customers. As these systems become more automated by artificial intelligence, then systems for surveillance of shoppers will increase. 

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