In a multinational study of self-serve check-outs (Britain, Belgium, Netherlands, and the United States), the conclusion is that of the 6,000,000 items checked during the researcher’s observations (that’s 1,000,000 shopping trips researched), 850,000 (about 4%) were not scanned, i.e., the shoppers did not pay for the items. Â Whether the non-scans were errors or intentional is an unknown because, well, the retailers did not want researchers confronting the shoppers (and pressing charges was out of the question).
According to the National Retail Federation, retailers reported losing $44 billion in 2015 to shoplifting, employee theft, fraud, and errors. Â About $17 billion of the total was due to shoplifting. Â Interviews with self-serve shoppers found that they were “neutralizing their guilt.” Â Feeling that the store was too expensive, taking an item here and there without paying just balances the account. Â Ah, the “giant ledger sheet in the sky” theory of ethics. One shopper said, “If I buy 20, I can get five for free.” Â The store makes enough money on the 20.
Retail stores are aware of the theft rates at self-serve and also know that employees assigned to help and observe there cannot catch everything, particularly when they are helping the less technologically gifted customers Â However, the stores believe there are still savings with the self-serve lanes. They can get more purchases processed through with fewer employees, despite the theft that seems to come quite naturally to some.
Kudos to Christopher Mele for his coverage of this delightfully intriguing story on theft and human nature, “Self-Serve Checkout: Â What Honor Code,” New York Times, August 15, 2016, p. B2.