Technical ReportPDF Available

The Impact and Control of Shrinkage at Self-scan Checkouts

ECR Europe Shrinkage Group
January 2011
ECR Europe Shrinkage Group
This publication has been compiled by ECR Europe, representatives from their membership and
Adrian Beck, the academic advisor to the ECR Europe Shrinkage Group.
The document is intended for general information only and is based upon the experiences of
retailers in the UK only. Companies or individuals following any actions described herein do so
entirely at their own risk. Readers should bear in mind that due to the wide variety of companies
and organisations involved in the preparation of this publication and their specific requirements
the views and opinions expressed should not be taken as specific advice.
Companies or organisations making use of this publication are advised to take professional
advice regarding their specific needs and requirements prior to taking any actions resulting from
anything contained in this publication. Companies are responsible for assuring themselves that
they comply with all relevant laws and regulations including those relating to intellectual property
rights, data protection and competition laws or regulations.
This publication has been produced by ECR Europe with the assistance of Adrian Beck,
Department of Criminology, University of Leicester. For further information please contact the
author directly at:
© ECR Europe. All rights reserved.
A Guide to Self-scan Checkouts and Shrinkage
Published by:
ECR Europe
9 avenue des Gaulois
1040 Brussels
ECR Europe is a voluntary and collaborative retailer-manufacturer platform with a mission to
fulfil consumer wishes better, faster and at less cost’. It is a non-profit organisations which aims
to help retailers and manufacturers in the consumer goods industry to drive supply chain
efficiencies and deliver business growth and consumer value
ECR Europe Shrinkage Group
ECR Europe Shrinkage Group
Executive Summary
ECR Europe Shrinkage Group
This study aimed to contribute to the debate concerning the potential impact self-scan checkouts
may have on retail shrinkage.
It adopted a multi-method approach: retailer case studies, a survey of self-scan supervisors, and
interviews with self-scan technology companies, loss prevention practitioners and product
protection providers.
Key findings are:
Limited evidence from the retail case studies suggested that the introduction of self-scan
technologies had little or no impact on levels of shrinkage. One retailer found that
manned checkouts operators are three times more likely to not scan an item than a
customer using self scan.
A survey of 955 self-scan supervisors did not identify widespread concerns about
customers abusing this system, with the majority not having caught anybody stealing
through this method nor suggesting that the non-scanning of items was widespread.
The research identified the need for retailers to create ‘zones of control’ within which
self-scan checkouts operate to ensure that potential thieves perceive it to be both
difficult to steal and that it was highly likely that if they did offend, they would be caught.
These zones of control should be created through careful design (where possible
creating a separate self-scan space, controlling the movement of customers and limiting
means of entrance and exit) and generating overt forms of surveillance (supervisors and
other staff constantly being highly visible and near to customers; the use of CCTV and
public view monitors and technological monitoring through till-based alerts and alarms).
Where possible one supervisor should be responsible for a maximum of four self-scan
checkouts this maximises their ability to be vigilant and to effectively respond to
customer queries and system alarms and alerts.
Certain elements of self-scan systems should be reviewed, including:
o the number of alerts generated compared with the ability of staff to act as
‘guardians of control’; identification of products that persistently create scanning
problems for customers (barcode not reading) and ameliorative action taken
(either by the retailer or through negotiation with the product manufacturer);
review of location of the receipt function; improved customer notification of
change, including location of scoop; review of loose item description interface;
and how discount vouchers are handled and verified.
Training of self-scan supervisors is critical they need to be aware of the importance of
maintaining vigilance and keeping in close proximity to customers. They also need to be
aware of all the well-known self-scan scams.
The providers of product protection equipment need to work much more closely with
the manufacturers of self-scan technologies to ensure that the current problems being
experienced with devices such as EAS tags (false alarms because customers are not
deactivating tags consistently) can be addressed.
There is a need for further research to understand the level of losses being experienced
through traditional checkouts to better understand whether the levels of loss are similar
or indeed higher than those occurring through self-scan checkouts.
The emerging nature of self-scan technology and the growing public acceptance of, and
familiarity with, suggests that this subject should be reviewed in years to come to see if
levels of abuse are the same level.
ECR Europe Shrinkage Group
The purpose of this report is to contribute to the debate concerning the potential impact self-
scan checkouts may have on retail shrinkage1. Since their first introduction back in the US in
1992 they are increasingly becoming a familiar part of the modern retail space (particularly in
supermarkets) and this market is seeing remarkable growth across the globe with sales expected
to triple between 2007 and 20112. For some they provide another opportunity to give the
consumer even greater convenience and choice coupled with an attractive return on investment
(ROI) model for the retailer that potentially reduces their biggest recurrent cost staff3. For
others they are seen as the start of a slippery slope towards less and less customer service adding
yet further complication and irritation to the average consumers shopping experience4.
Within the world of loss prevention views have been equally mixed. Some have viewed this
development in horror, fearing that it introduces an enormously easy way forcustomersto steal
product from stores, particularly through the selective scanning of items. These doomsayers
worry about the lack of control over the customer at a critical stage in the purchasing process
payment arguing that there is relatively little to stop them simply putting some of the products
in their bag without paying for them when not being actively supervised by a member of staff.
However, others have argued differently, coming out in defence of the self-scan checkout
revolution. Some have suggested that ‘trained’ checkout operators already regularly make errors
(not scanning items) either on purpose to benefit friends and family (sweethearting) or because
they are poorly motivated and or trained to do their job properly. Their argument goes that losses
through this type of activity will be about the same as those caused by the customers who decide
to exploit the self-scan systems or make errors. Indeed, some have gone further to suggest that
customers will actually be more accurate as many will be keen to make sure they do not make a
mistake when using these systems (driven by a concern not to be caught acting ‘dishonestly’) and
their relatively irregular use compared with retail staff will minimise any degree of laziness/lack
1 For the purposes of this report, the term shrinkage will be used to describe those losses suffered by retailers due to
internal and external theft, process failures and inter-company fraud, including both known and unknown losses.
For a more detailed discussion on the way in which shrinkage is defined, measured, and combated see Beck, A.
with Peacock, C. (2009) New Loss Prevention: Redefining Shrinkage Management, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
2 Retail Automation Bulletin (2009) Self-checkout to drive growth in EPOS hardware spending, Retail Automation Bulletin,
Volume 1: 3.
3 Providers of self-scan technology send out a mixed message concerning this depending upon the intended
audience some such as Fujitsu suggest that large retailers could save up to 150 hours of staff time per week
(Fujitsu (2006) U-Scan: The Fujitsu Self-Checkout Solution, Frisco: Fujitsu) while others prefer to couch the staff saving
as an opportunity to redeploy staff to yet further improve customer service (IBM (2008) Shrink and self checkout:
trends, technology and tips, New York: IBM). Not surprisingly, most retailers employing this technology do not openly
admit that they are introducing self-scan technology to cut back on staff costs, preferring to frame their decision
more in terms of providing the customer with greater choice and convenience.
4 A recent report for the Sunday Telegraph suggested that self-scan checkouts were actually slower than traditional
manned checkouts (for the same sized basket of shopping) while the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied
Workers (USDAW) have described them as a potential flashpoint which may cause frustrated shoppers to attack
shop workers:
checkouts-have-not-cut-supermarket-queues.html. One commentator has also noted the negative impact self scan
checkouts can have on impulse purchases, particularly those that took place at traditional checkouts one retailer
experienced a 30-40% reduction in snack items, batteries, gums and soft drinks after installing self checkouts and
wryly described it as the ‘self-checkout diet plan’! Evans, J. and Dayle, E. (2009) Self Scanning: Profit or Loss?
Presentation at the RILA Auditing and Safety Conference, Orlando, Florida.
ECR Europe Shrinkage Group
of attention that may be exhibited by disenchanted employees (sometimes to the point where
they may end up scanning and paying for items more than once)5.
A third group have suggested that while shrinkage may go up due to some customers exploiting
the opportunities presented by self-scan checkouts, these losses will be more than offset by the
staff savings that accrue through their introduction typically a bank of between four and six
self-scan checkouts will be monitored by just one member of staff and take up the equivalent
space of two typical checkout lanes. While costing more to purchase in the first instance, self-
scan checkouts, the argument goes, present a very persuasive business model, particularly if their
impact on shrinkage is either neutral or even slightly negative6. This argument is further bolstered
by the manufacturers of the technology who claim that the checks and balances they have
designed into their systems, such as product weight confirmation plates, limit the opportunities
for theft to take place and therefore make the business model even more persuasive.
While there is a considerable amount of research and published material in the public domain
focusing on the various ways self-scan technologies can be utilised, their benefits, known
operating problems and realisable ROI7, there is virtually nothing published of any note on their
relationship with shrinkage. Numerous public sources reference8 a 1995 report by NCR (one of
the main providers of self-scan technology) on shrinkage which apparently suggested that this
technology actually reduced shrinkage losses, but it has proven to be an illusive document to
uncover and the researcher has failed to track it down (one of the retailers that was apparently
consulted for the report was contacted but they could only say that they did not provide any
evidence to support the view that self-scan checkouts were associated with lower levels of
shrinkage). Another report, again by a self-scan technology provider (IBM), makes a similar
statement: Research has found, however, that shrink is often either the same or less in self
checkout lanes…’, but the report does not go on to explain where or how this research was
There is evidence from some unpublished research, undertaken by Evans and Deyle in the US on
the potential impact of self-scan checkouts on shrinkage, which was presented at the RILA
Auditing and Safety Conference in Orlando Florida in 2009. This study was based upon a
perception survey of six retailers together with an analysis of shrinkage data from a ‘Sub section
of 39 retailer share group which accounts for $259 billion in annual sales’ (sic) on differences in
shrinkage between stores with and without self-scan checkouts. While the results from the survey
of six retailers is of limited value due to the size of the sample, the data presented from the 39
retailers offers some interesting insights10. They concluded that inventory shrinkage was ‘slightly
higher’ in stores with self-scan checkouts compared with stores that did not employ this
5 This point is often supported by various surveys which show that perhaps as much as 70 per cent of all losses due
to shrinkage are due to internal factors (staff theft and error and process failures) and not the customer; see Beck
with Peacock (2009), ibid.
6 This was the general conclusion from the study undertaken by Evans and Dayle, which was presented at the RILA
conference last year (2009), op cit.
7 Visit a site such as to get access to a wide range of articles and reports on the use of
self scan technologies.
8 For example see:, accessed 30th July 2010.
9 IBM (2008), op cit.
10 The presentation does not offer any detail on how this data was collected, the timeframe it covers, nor the types of
retailers that participated. As such, it needs to be interpreted with some caution.
ECR Europe Shrinkage Group
technology. They went on to say that ‘external theft activity’ in self-scan stores was between 20
per cent and 65 per cent higher and ‘inventory shrink in theft-related items’ was approximately 20
basis points higher. Also of interest was their conclusion that the rate of EAS alarms was 28 per
cent higher in self-scan stores compared with stores not using this technology11.
The only other sources of publicly available information on shrinkage and self-scan checkouts
have been sporadic mentions in the media, typical of which is a piece in the 2007 edition of
Supply Chain Digest entitled ‘Retail Supply Chain: Shrinkage Causes Wal-Mart to Adjust Self-
Service Process’, which noted how some Wal-Mart managers in the US had noticed ‘an
unbelievable increase in shoplifting’ due to the introduction of self-scan checkouts, although they
were using a system which did not weight check items12. However, none make reference to any
verifiable data that can confirm the impact, if any of self-scan systems on rates of shrinkage.
Given this lack of clarity on the issue and the increasing speed with which many retailers around
the world are introducing this technology, the ECR Europe Shrinkage Group decided to
commission this piece of research. The aim of this study was to try and contribute to this debate
on what impact if any self-scan checkouts might have on shrinkage in the retail sector. In
particular it was proposed to try and develop, if possible, a series of guidelines on how to
minimise the risk of shrinkage when introducing self-scan checkouts and also explore the
implications of their use on product protection technologies used in-store such as Electronic
Article Surveillance (EAS) tags. It is worth highlighting that this study is only interested in self-
scan checkouts and not other variants of self-scanning technology that currently exist. To clarify,
in this study self-scan checkouts refer to systems whereby customers use a checkout machine to
scan items they have selected from the store themselves, including selecting categories for loose
items (such as fruit and vegetables), and make payment via cash or a credit/debit card. This may
also include some functionality to deactivate Electronic Article Surveillance (EAS) tags. For all
the retailers taking part in this study, there was no process for carrying out a post-scan audit of a
customer’s purchases to verify accuracy13.
The concept of getting customers to perform more and more of the tasks that make up the
shopping experience is not new. Back in the early parts of the last century supermarkets began
moving away from a system whereby all the goods in a store were held behind counters
accessible only by asking a member of staff for assistance to the now familiar concept of self-
service, with goods being on open display. Customers were now free to select the goods they
wanted (and browse goods they might be interested in) and only interact with a member of staff
when they wanted to pay (with the associated development of the checkout station). A similar
change can be seen in the way in which petrol stations now increasingly operate where there is an
expectation that the customer will take responsibility for using the refilling equipment themselves
and then pay at the end. Equally, the rise of the ATM machine has seen a remarkable change in
11 Evans and Deyle (2009), op cit.
12, accessed 29th July 2010.
13 Some variants of self-scan system randomly select customers for a post-purchase check to reconcile ‘purchased’
items with the receipt. Some retailers argue that this audit process produces a higher degree of risk and so acts as a
valuable deterrent to would-be thieves.
ECR Europe Shrinkage Group
the way in which people now gain access to cash from banks they are no longer required to
present themselves at a bank at proscribed times but instead can use a widely available
technology at their own convenience. This changing model of business is considered a win win
development the provider reduces costs (you need less staff to serve) and the consumer is
given greater freedom to access a broader ranges of goods and services at their convenience. Self-
scan checkouts are a logical extension of this process.
There are essentially two main types of self-scan system: Stationary Self Service Checkouts and
Portable Self Service Platforms14. The former is a fixed device where customers bring their
goods, scan them and arrange payment themselves. The latter is a hand held device whereby the
customer scans goods as they move around the store and then when ready to pay approach a
designated member of staff with the device that is then used to arrange payment. There is
considerable variance in the way each of these systems are designed and developed by the
technology providers and operated by the retailers using them. For instance, some retailers insist
upon the use of random audit checks whereby every nth customer is selected to have their
shopping checked by a member of staff. This is seen by some as a valuable means of generating
deterrence as the random element of the process makes all those using the system aware that they
could be checked at any time. For other retailers this is regarded as too time consuming,
preferring to rely upon other means to reduce the likelihood of customers stealing goods through
self-scan checkouts.
Early adopters of this technology have primarily been large volume retailers such as
supermarkets, hypermarkets and DIY type retailers, although the technology providers claim that
it can work in most retail environments. With approximately 80 per cent of supermarket labour
costs being incurred at the checkout, it is perhaps not surprising that this environment has been
an early adopter any innovation that can make an inroad into this cost is likely to be taken
seriously15. In addition, surveys have shown that while it can be slower to use a self-scan
checkout than a manned checkout, customers think it is faster (due to the lack of queues and the
act of doing it yourself) and about 50 per cent suggest they like the choice of different ways to
check out16. While few Return on Investment (ROI) studies have been published, manufacturers
of the technology suggest that adopters can realise a profit in about 1-2 years or less17.
Before going on to discuss the methodology used and the limitations of this study, it is worth
providing a brief summary of the problem of shrinkage as it affects the retail sector. The subject
of ‘shrinkage’ or ‘shortage’ as some prefer to call it is a difficult subject to get conclusive
information about companies rarely publish or share shrinkage results. Most available
information on the scale and extent of the problem come from various surveys that are
undertaken across the globe. Beck and Peacock recently brought the available data together and
concluded that globally shrinkage is costing the industry $278 billion a year or 1.65 per cent of
retail turnover figures which ignore the additional cost of lost sales due to shrinkage-created
14 Self Service World (2009) Self Checkout, published by NetWorld Alliance.
16 ibid.
ECR Europe Shrinkage Group
out of stocks (estimated at a further 0.2% of retailer turnover)18. When this is related to the
overall impact on retail sales, they suggest that if the cost of shrinkage could be halved, then most
retailers would see their profits grow by 36 per cent.
Traditionally the key cause of shrinkage has been seen to be external thieves although globally
estimates vary considerably on the proportion of loss accounted for by them. For instance the
annual surveys undertaken by the University of Florida regularly conclude that internal theft
makes up the biggest proportion of loss while the various Global Retail Theft Barometer surveys
suggest that external theft is the largest single contributor19. If an average is taken across the
various recent surveys then it would seem to be that external theft accounts for 35 per cent,
internal theft 33 per cent, with process failure and inter-company fraud making up the remaining
32 per cent20.
What is unclear from any of the existing literature on retail shrinkage is the extent to which losses
at the checkout contribute to overall loss it is an unknown figure although numerous
practitioners have speculated on how significant it might be, to the point of investing in a wide
range of technologies to try and detect and deter its occurrence21. Certainly the available research
on staff dishonesty would suggest that the checkout provides an attractive opportunity for
deviant behaviour it is difficult to monitor (certainly in terms of non-technological
identification of non-scanning) and brings employees into regular contact with the hottest
product of all cash. An earlier study by ECR Europe identified the extent to which dishonest
employees found it relatively easy to steal from the checkout, which supports to a degree the
earlier hypothesis that customers using self-scan checkouts will steal and or make errors at about
the same rate as employees therefore overall rates of shrinkage will not be affected22. What is
required, however, is more detailed research which quantifies the actual level of losses occurring
at manned-checkouts compared with other areas where losses occur, such as by external thieves
stealing products, members of staff doing the same, and the whole panoply of losses relating to
process failures. Until this is achieved, then it will not be possible to confirm whether customers
do indeed steal and make errors at about the same rate as members of staff.
At the outset, it was proposed to use a number of different methodologies to try and achieve the
aims of this study, including: retailers acting as case studies to try and provide data on the impact
the introduction of this technology had had on levels of shrinkage in their companies; a survey of
self-scan supervisors to find out their experiences of these systems; interviews with various
technology providers (both self-scan systems and those who provide product protection
equipment); and interviews with loss prevention practitioners. This wide range of methods was
used because it was not clear at the beginning what information if any would be available from
retailers themselves on the actual impact on shrinkage of these systems this sort of data is
18 Beck with Peacock (2009), op cit; see also ECR (2010) Packaging Design for Shrinkage Prevention, Brussels: ECR
19 Hollinger, R. C., & Adams, A. (2008). 2007 National Retail Security Survey: Final Report. Gainsville, FL: University of
Florida; Bamfield, J. (2008). Global Retail Theft Barometer 2008. Nottingham: Centre for Retail Research.
20 Beck with Peacock (2009), op cit.
21 See for instance recent develops in a range of technologies such as data mining and CCTV-based systems for
observing and monitoring check out operators.
22 Beck A. (2006) Staff Dishonesty in the Retail Sector: Understanding the Opportunities, Brussels: ECR Europe.
ECR Europe Shrinkage Group
notoriously unreliable when trying to measure relatively nuanced changes to retail spaces. More
often than not, retail shrinkage numbers are based upon relatively unsophisticated modes of
measurement annual store audits being an example where some losses will not be identified for
up to 12 months after they have happened making it impossible to ascertain the cause of the loss.
In addition, in the periods when self-scan systems have been introduced into retail stores there
are often a range of other changes that have occurred at the same time (such as other retail
systems being introduced, changes in store layout, product ranges, types of product protection
used etc), many of which are virtually impossible to isolate within the overall shrinkage data.
Therefore while retailers may record changes to shrinkage data that in the first instance are
correlated with the introduction of self-scan technologies, there is a significant difference
between correlation and causation the former measures similarity, the latter explains why one
factor affects another. In the dynamic and fast changing world of modern retailing, trying to
undertake ‘experiments’ to test for causal changes when new technologies or approaches are
introduced is notoriously difficult, and in this instance, it is further compounded by the relatively
unsophisticated nature of the main variable the rate of shrinkage. So while the retailer case
study data was seen as a potentially important way of trying to understand the impact of self-scan
technology on shrinkage, other approaches were also adopted to generate different types of data
that could also help to meet the objectives, although by their nature, they inevitably become
more indirect and require a greater deal of interpretation.
Four retailers agreed to act as main case studies for the first part of the study. All of them were
UK-based and together represented a significant proportion of the supermarket sector23. Each
had introduced self-scan at different times, in different ways, across a range of store formats, and
at different speeds of roll out. One retailer had had experience of a different form of self-scan
system in the past hand held barcode readers that enabled customers to scan as they moved
around the store and then at the end of their shopping they presented the device to a member of
staff who organised payment.
Each company was contacted with a request for specific information relating to shrinkage and
the introduction of self-scan checkouts, in particular: whether they could identify a group of
stores (40) that previously had not had self-scan and then had had it introduced approximately 12
months previously. The idea was to try and measure changes in shrinkage over time as these
stores moved from not having the technology to then having it installed. In addition, the retailers
were requested to identify a group of stores that matched the profile of those that had self-scan
introduced to act as a control group. This exercise proved very difficult for the companies to do
with any degree of accuracy. In the end just one retailer was able to provide any form of data that
came close to this requirement. The results from this are presented in the next section. For the
others, they were simply not able to either provide the historic data with any accuracy or identify
sufficient stores where the transition could be readily ascertained. For one of the companies
agreeing to take part, the introduction of self-scan checkouts coincided with the introduction of a
23 Because of the confidential nature of some of the data shared with the researcher, it has been agreed not to name
the companies that took part in this study.
ECR Europe Shrinkage Group
home delivery service in the same stores, making it impossible to know whether any changes in
shrinkage were due to self-scan, home delivery or a combination of the two.
In addition to the main case study companies, a US retailer also agreed to make data available to
aid the study. This company used a relatively new and innovative technology that enables the rate
of non-scanning at the checkout to be monitored (along with other forms of deception and
mistakes)24. The retailer was able to provide the rate of non-scanning for manned checkouts
compared with self scan checkouts for a 12-month period covering 47 stores, which included 554
manned registers and 63 self scan registers. Of itself, this is groundbreaking data as prior to this
it had been virtually impossible to monitor error rates at the checkout on such a scale. However,
it does only measure one aspect of malicious and non-malicious activity at checkouts and so the
data needs to be used cautiously. For instance, non-scanning at self scan checkout is not the only
one way in which thieves can steal products they can scan product and then simply not pay,
they can use incorrect product identification codes for weighed items, and so on. Neither of
these scams would be captured by this data. Given that, it is still some of the strongest published
data enabling a comparison to be drawn between rates of non-scanning at manned and self scan
Because it was predicted that shrinkage-based data from case study companies was likely to be
unforthcoming with any degree of accuracy, it was decided to undertake a survey of those staff
that had responsibility for monitoring the checkouts on a regular basis. Given their role, it was
felt that their insights to the way in which the tills were operating, the problems they encountered
and the ways in which customers were using and abusing them, would generate some valuable
data. Once again, only UK-based retailers were used to collect the data. The responses came
from 6 UK retailers with a combined retail turnover of 94.5 billion, representing 52.5 per cent
of the grocery market. The data was collected in two main ways. Four companies agreed to
collect the data within their own businesses by distributing a self-complete questionnaire to
stores where self-scan was in operation. Those selected were simply available at the time of data
collection in those particular storesno effort was made to stratify the sample within each of the
companies adopting this approach. All four companies selected stores across the UK for
inclusion. The data from the two remaining retailers was collected by a third-party company that
visited their stores on a regular basis for the purposes of merchandising. The stores were selected
based upon the rota drawn up by the third-party company for a given month and covered all of
England, Scotland and Wales (the researcher identified those stores that had self-scan from lists
provided by the retailers). Upon entering the store the representative went to see the store
manager and requested that one member of staff who was currently not working on self-scan
checkouts (but usually had responsibility for them) completed a questionnaire. Once completed,
the questionnaire was returned to the representative who then forwarded it to the researcher.
A total of 978 questionnaires were eventually returned through the two methods, of which 955
were ultimately usable. Given the way in which the data was collected, some caution has to be
24 The company is called Stoplift, and uses CCTV and software linked to the EPOS system to identify malicious and
non malicious activity at the checkout, see:
ECR Europe Shrinkage Group
exercised concerning how representative the sample actually is of those working as self-scan
supervisors the researcher was not able to dictate the precise methods with which the
respondents were selected and therefore there is a possibility of systematic skewing of the data by
the companies that collected the information. However, the relatively large sample size and the
fact that it was collected across six retailers offers some degree of assurance that the results have
a relatively high degree of integrity and representativeness of those who have responsibility for
supervising self-scan checkouts in the UK supermarket business.
The final methodology adopted was semi-structured interviews with a series of representatives
from the loss prevention industry, those that provide the self-scan technology and product
protection technology providers. They were approached through contacts made through the
ECR Europe Shrinkage Group and while their views are not brought together into a separate
section in this report, their impressions and thoughts are utilised throughout this document to
aid analysis and interpretation. For the sake of anonymity, none of those interviewed will be
This report is made up of 4 sections. The first documents the available but limited data from the
case study retailers. The second presents the detailed findings from the survey of self-scan
supervisors. This is then followed by a discussion/conclusion section that brings together the key
findings from this study and how self-scan technologies can be understood within the broader
context of shrinkage management. The final section then makes a series of recommendations for
how self-scan checkouts can be utilised to minimise their impact upon shrinkage.
Retailer Case Studies
ECR Europe Shrinkage Group
Only two of the four retailers that agreed to act as main case study retailers were able to provide
any data that was in someway useable for the purpose of this study. Of those, the first (Retailer
A) has the most reliable and verifiable data that stands up to any form of critique. However,
overall, this part of the study did not prove a great success in terms of generating good quality
shrinkage data to establish what impact if any self-scan checkouts have on rates of store
shrinkage. The data from the US company employing a technology to identity non scanning at
checkout did prove more successful and the data presented below is extremely interesting in
terms of understanding the risks associated with traditional and self scan checkouts.
This is one of the largest supermarket retailers in the UK with 500+ stores now using self-scan
checkouts. They were not able/willing to provide the data as requested by the researcher, but did
provide access to an independent study they had commissioned one year prior to this study to
explore the potential impact of self-scan on shrinkage. It should be noted that the available
report does not give any significant detail on the methodology adopted but does follow a number
of reliable methodological steps that make the data of some value. The company looked at a
sample of 66 critical security risk stores (with varying formats) that had self-scan checkouts and
compared them with 38 stores (with the same rating) that did not have this technology. The data
was collected over a 12-month period. It is not clear why the control sample is that much smaller
than the self-scan sample or whether the stores were matched pairs (although the data is
compared by format type).
Table 1 12 Comparison of Shrinkage between Stores With and Without SSCs
Store Format
With SSCs
Without SSCs
Number of
Rate of
Shrinkage (%)
Number of
Rate of
Shrinkage (%)
Format 1
Format 2
Format 3
Format 4
All Stores
As can be seen from Table 1, the difference between the two samples was 3 basis points and was
not statistically significant suggesting that self-scan had no noticeable impact upon shrinkage.
This is particularly interesting data as it came from high risk stores an environment that many
loss prevention practitioners have voiced concerns about the appropriateness of introducing self-
scan checkouts.
The company then looked at a sample of 27 stores where self-scan had been installed and
compared shrinkage data 12 weeks prior to installation and 12 weeks post installation (Table 2).
Across the sample, the change in the rate of shrinkage was almost the same as that found across
the entire company (there was no statistically significant difference). Once again they concluded
Retailer Case Studies
ECR Europe Shrinkage Group
that self-scan had no discernible negative impact upon shrinkage in those stores utilising this
technology it was impact neutral in terms of loss.
Table 2 Rate of Shrinkage in 27 Stores Pre and Post SSC Installation
This retailer has a national presence with over 600 stores that provide a mixed retail space
including a strong food component. They were able to provide some very limited data on the
impact of self-scan checkouts in their retail estate. It should be noted, however, that this
company has struggled in the past to provide accurate and detailed information on shrinkage and
so its results need to be treated with a considerable degree of caution. They were able to provide
analysis of six stores where they were able to collect before and after data. One of the stores had
to be removed as their starting point for shrinkage was significantly and dramatically lower than
any of the other stores and adversely skewed the results. For the remaining 5 stores, the data
showed a 20 basis point increase in shrinkage between stores with self-scan checkouts and those
without. This is the same as result as found in the Evans and Deyle study in the US25. However,
the sample here is much smaller and method of store selection is not known and so extreme
caution needs to be exercised with these results.
This US retailer has about 60 stores in Massachusetts and Connecticut, a turnover of $1.2 billion
and offers a typical range of products found in most supermarket chains. More unusually, it has
invested in a technology that enables it to monitor the performance of checkout operators using
a system that links CCTV with the EPOS system and through the use of software and human
monitoring, can identify a range of malicious and non-malicious activity. The company agreed to
provide data comparing the rate of non-scanning at manned checkouts compared with self scan
checkouts. As detailed in the methodology section earlier, it covers a 12-month period across 46
stores and 554 manned tills and 63 self scan checkouts. It is worth reiterating that this data only
covers the non scanning of items and does not include other forms of malicious activity that can
be found at self scan checkouts, such as scanning but not paying and using the wrong product
code for loose items. Detailed in Table 3 below is the data comparing manned and self scan
checkouts for the rate of non scanning of items.
Table 3 Rate of Non Scanning of Items at Manned Checkouts Compared with SSCs
Type of Checkout
Number of Items
Number of Items
not Scanned
not Scanned
Self Scan
25 Evans and Dayle (2009) op cit.
Rate of Shrinkage (%)
Post SSC
Retailer Case Studies
ECR Europe Shrinkage Group
As can be see, out of over 425 million items moving through manned checkouts, nearly 30,000
were not scanned giving an error rate of 0.007%. For self scan checkouts, some 23 million items
were moved with only 554 apparently not being scanned by the consumer, giving an error rate of
0.002%. While the volumes are considerably different the variance in error rates is profound and
dramatic in terms of non scanning, staff are three times more likely to do it than customers in
this retail environment. This data is instructive for a number of reasons. First, it suggests that
customers are potentially more assiduous in their efforts to scan items than store staff, perhaps
driven by a combination of honesty and fear but also novelty and relative infrequency of having
to do this task. For staff, routinisation, apathy, indifference and low morale could mean they are
more inclined to make mistakes or act dishonestly on behalf of friends and family
(sweethearting). Secondly, it suggests that customers are not using non-scanning as a regular
means to defraud the company the number of non-scanned items captured by the system is
very small with a total value of approximately $2,500. This is not to say that other methods are
not being employed by customers to steal via self scan checkouts, but the premise put forward by
some that customers would not scan to steal items is largely disproven by this data. Thirdly, the
data shows the opportunities for improving performance at manned checkouts through the
monitoring of transaction data such as this. What the retailer has found is that the vast majority
of non scanning activities uncovered by this system are non malicious, caused by defective bar
codes and product identification, and poor staff performance (staff simply being lazy).
It is difficult to draw any firm conclusions from this part of the study the ability of the main
retail case study companies that agreed to participate in this study to provide verifiable and
reliable data on the actual impact upon shrinkage of introducing self-scan checkouts is largely
missing. In reality only one was able to come close to providing the sort of data requested by the
researcher and this showed that the impact upon shrinkage of introducing self-scan checkouts
was neutral there was neither a significant increase nor decrease in shrinkage. This is slightly at
odds with the only other study currently available the Evans and Deyle research in the US,
which found a slight increase in shrinkage. The analysis of the rate of non-scanning in the US
case study is more clear cut, if based upon only a sample of one. There was no evidence of wide
scale non-scanning by customers and indeed, customers seem to be much more reliable than
members of staff operating manned checkouts in this respect. While there are other ways in
which self-scan systems can be abused by customers, which is not captured by this data, initial
industry concerns about customers deciding not to scan items would seem to be misplaced at this
Staff Perceptions of Self-scan Checkouts
ECR Europe Shrinkage Group
This part of the report is based upon a survey of retail employees who have responsibility for
supervising self-scan checkouts. The responses come from 6 UK retailers with a combined retail
turnover of 94.5 billion, representing 52.5 per cent of the grocery market. As detailed in the
earlier methodology section, a total of 955 responses were received from the 6 retailers, making
this the largest survey of self-scan supervisors to date anywhere in the world. The purpose of the
survey was to collect information on the following areas:
The nature, extent and value of training provided by retailers on self-scan checkout.
Employee experiences of customers having difficulty with the system.
The extent to which employees had witnessed customers abusing the system.
Perceptions of the extent to which self-scan checkouts had affected the likelihood for
employee and customer dishonesty to occur.
Employee perceptions of managing the system and maintaining vigilance.
The impact of self-scan checkouts on product security devices.
Above all, the survey was designed to try and shed further light on the potential impact self-scan
checkouts may have on retail shrinkage. To ensure anonymity, none of the company data will be
provided separately all will be in aggregate form.
The first series of questions related to the training that employees had received on how to use
self-scan checkouts. In shrinkage terms this is important because unless employees are fully
cognisant with how these systems operate, and indeed the potential ways in which deviant
customers and staff could manipulate them to facilitate the theft of goods, then they are unlikely
to be able to manage them effectively and minimise any potential losses. A series of questions
were asked focussing first of all on whether they had received general training on self-scan
checkouts and what they thought of this training. This was then followed by more specific
questions on the training they may have received relating to self-scan and shrinkage, focussing
particularly upon the areas covered and their perceptions of the value of this training.
The first question asked respondents whether
they had received any training on using self-
scan checkouts. As can be seen from Figure 1,
the vast majority had received some form of
training (93%), with only a small minority not
receiving any (7%). Only one of the retailers
had a rate below 90 per cent clearly indicating
that training on self-scan checkouts was being
delivered to the vast majority of staff tasked
with operating and managing these devices.
Staff Perceptions of Self-scan Checkouts
ECR Europe Shrinkage Group
Respondents who had received training were then asked to indicate how long it had lasted with
the options ranging from half a day through to more than two days (Figure 2)
As can be seen, the length of
training varied considerably and
there was no one time period
that generated a majority
response. Just over one third
suggested that their training
lasted half a day (34%), with just
under one third stating it had
lasted two days (32%). But there
was also a sizeable proportion
that said their training on how to use self-scan checkouts had lasted one day (22%). For the most
part, very few staff (12%) had received training for more than two days.
It is interesting to note that across 5 of the 6 retailers there was considerable variation within
particular sub samples, so for instance, one retailer had 39 per cent of their respondents saying
they had received half a day of training, with a further 20 per cent indicating they had received a
one-day training course, 29 per cent stating it lasted two days and the final 12 per cent suggesting
it had been more than 2 days long. This suggests that while training on using self-scan checkouts
is for the most part being delivered to staff it is not being done consistently across the majority
of retailers taking part in this survey and indeed there is much variation within particular retailers.
For those that had received some form of training on using self-scan checkouts, they were then
asked to indicate what they thought of the training they had received, ranging from very good to
poor (Figure 3).
Most respondents were of
the view that their general
training on using self-scan
checkout had been good or
very good (83%), with only
a small proportion thinking
it was average (15%) or poor
or very poor (2%).
In terms of differences
between the length of
training received and the
perceived value, the sample
was unanimous all of those that rated their training as poor or very poor had received half a
day of training (although there were others who had received half a day of training that had rated
Staff Perceptions of Self-scan Checkouts
ECR Europe Shrinkage Group
it as good or very good). There was one retailer whose score was significantly different from the
others, achieving a ‘very good/good’ rating from 62 per cent compared with an average of 83 per
cent for the other five companies taking part in the survey. Overall, the vast majority of those
getting training on using self-scan checkouts were satisfied with what they received.
The survey then went on to ask respondents whether they had received training on issues relating
to self-scan checkouts and potential theft and stock loss (Figure 4).
As can be seen, compared with
those that said they had received
general training on how to use self-
scan checkouts (93%), far fewer said
that their training had included
anything on potential theft and
stock loss; just 79 per cent.
However, of the six retailers taking
part, two were at the extremes one
had a rate of non-training on stock loss issues of 46 per cent while the other had a rate of just 11
per cent. For the remaining retailers their rate of non-training was 23 per cent. Allowing for these
inter-sample fluctuations, the number of those claiming not to have received training on
shrinkage issues was significant approximately one-fifth of the sample. Perhaps not
surprisingly, there was a strong positive correlation between the length of training received and
the likelihood it contained information on theft and stock loss issues26 the longer the training
the more probable it was that it would provide information on stock loss issues. For those who
received just half a day of training, nearly 40 per cent said that they had not had any training
relating to loss prevention and self-scan checkouts, while the failure rate for those who had a full
day of training dropped to 15 per cent and for those receiving more than a day of training it was
approximately 10 per cent. It would seem that less than a full day of training does not provide
sufficient time to cover all aspects of supervising self-scan checkouts (including loss prevention).
The respondents whose training had covered issues of theft and stock loss were then asked to
comment upon how well these issues had been covered, ranging from ‘very well’, ‘quite well’,
‘not well’ and ‘not well at all’ (for the purpose of simplifying the presentation of the data, the
categories have been collapsed into just two options) The results are presented in Figure 5 below.
26 Pearson Correlation: two tailed; N=871; -0.264, significance= 0.01.
Staff Perceptions of Self-scan Checkouts
ECR Europe Shrinkage Group
As with the rating of the overall
training on self-scan checkouts,
respondents were generally very
positive about the input on potential
theft and stock loss issues. The vast
majority thought that this aspect of
their training had been covered very or
quite well (94%) with only a tiny
minority (6%) thinking that it had not
been done well. This is a ringing
endorsement for this aspect of the training on self-scan checkouts when employees get this as
part of their training they almost universally regard it as of value. There was no significant
difference between the companies in how this training was perceived although the longer the
training period the higher it was rated 10 per cent thinking it was not done well on a half day
course compared with just 4 per cent on a two day training programme.
For those that had received some form of training on potential theft and stock loss issues relating
to self-scan checkouts, they were asked what elements had been included in their training (Figure
6). As can be seen, the vast majority suggested that non-scanning of items had been included
(96%) with a similarly high proportion also stating that the mis-scanning of items was also a part
of their training. Nearly two thirds also said that the problem of swapping products (72%) and
push throughs(72%) has been covered the former being a means to manipulate the manual
selection of fresh products (for instance having a bag of apples but selecting a cheaper product
such as potatoes for the purpose of pricing), while the latter relating to thieves using the often
relatively open spaces around self-scan checkout as a means to egress the store without paying
for products.
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Staff Perceptions of Self-scan Checkouts
ECR Europe Shrinkage Group
The two areas that were covered the least were the misuse of vouchers (61%) and issues
concerning the potential for credit card fraud at the self-scan checkout (40%). The length of the
training programme was related to the likelihood of some issues being covered swapping
products, push throughs and mis-canning items were all more likely to have been covered as the
length of the training programme increased.
The next part of the survey went on to ask staff about how often they witnessed particular
problems relating to self-scan checkouts taking place, such as bar codes not scanning properly,
customers not putting items in a bag on the weight checker plate, issues with chip and pin, age-
related alerts and so on. The reason for trying to gauge the extent of these self-scan problems is
that a concern amongst some loss prevention practitioners about self-scanning is that it could
provide increased opportunities for customers (and indeed employees) to steal products they
are a relatively uncontrolled space where the degree of discretion given to customers to pay or
not to pay for products they have selected is potentially considerable. Indeed, one of the reasons
(amongst others) why retailers have self-scan supervisors is to provide some form of control over
this potentially opportunity rich and perceptively low risk offending environment make
prospective offenders feel like it is risky to steal this way27. Therefore, if self-scan supervisors are
constantly responding to a host of problems, they are less likely to be able to watch over the self-
scan space they become reactive problem solvers rather than proactive guardians of control.
Respondents were given a series of problems and ask to suggest how often they thought they
occurred, ranging from hourly or more through to being a daily, weekly or less than weekly event.
Respondents were first
asked about how often
they thought customers
had problems with not
being able to scan
barcodes (Figure 7). As
can be seen nearly one half
of them thought this
happened on an hourly
basis or more frequently
(46%). A further 40 per
cent thought this
happened on a daily basis.
Taken together, 86 per cent of respondents thought this happened daily or more frequently. This
is clearly a major distraction and raises issues concerning the quality of the printing of bar codes
on products (are manufacturers doing everything they can to minimise this?) and the way in
27 Research on shoplifters has shown that the most effective means of creating deterrence is for a member of staff to
approach a potential thief and ask them if they need assistance the elimination of anonymity through their presence
creates sufficient concern about the likelihood of being caught to put off many shop thieves.
Staff Perceptions of Self-scan Checkouts
ECR Europe Shrinkage Group
which products are being set up on retail systems (do staff-operated checkouts have the same
problems with the same items?).
The next issue concerns the
frequency with which
employees have to respond to
issues relating to customers
not to putting bags on the
weight-checker plate and
consequentially triggering an
alarm to which they have to
respond (Figure 8). This was
seen almost unanimously as a
highly frequent problem 82
per cent said it occurred
hourly or more frequently,
while a further 15 per cent said it happened on a daily basis. Just 3 per cent of respondents said it
was a less frequent problem this was the issue that scored the highest and is clearly a constant
source of distraction for self-scan supervisors.
Respondents were then asked
to consider how often they
thought members of the
public forgot to take their
receipt from the self-scan
checkout (Figure 9). Nearly
two-thirds (60%) said that this
happened on a very regular
basis (hourly or more
frequently) while a further
one-quarter were of the view
it happened at least daily
(27%). There was a small
minority who experienced this
less often (13%). For staff this is less of a distraction, as it does not trigger any form of alarm to
which they have to respond to but readily available receipts could be used by thieves to cover
their offending behaviour..
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Staff Perceptions of Self-scan Checkouts
ECR Europe Shrinkage Group
The next problem employees
were asked about concerned
the frequency with which they
thought customers had issues
relating to a lack of change
being available from the self-
scan checkouts (Figure 10).
This was seen as a less
pressing concern with just 4
per cent of respondents
stating that it happened on an
hourly or more frequent basis
(one retailer accounted for nearly 60 per cent of these responses). For most respondents it was a
relatively infrequent event one-quarter saying it happened on a weekly basis (24%) with a nearly
one-third (30%) thinking it happened even less frequently. For the most part this data suggests
that problems relating to a lack of change in self-check out machines is not a high concern nor
source of regular distraction for supervisors.
A common problem for those
using self-scan checkouts in
supermarkets is when it comes
to dealing with loose items
(normally fruit and vegetables)
and identifying the correct
descriptor code (Figure 11).
Nearly one-fifth of self-scan
supervisors taking part in this
survey thought that this
occurred on an hourly or more
frequent basis (19%), while a
further one-quarter were of the
view it was a daily event (27%). However, for the majority, this was not a frequent focus of
distraction some 54% thought it happened only on a weekly basis or less.
Staff Perceptions of Self-scan Checkouts
ECR Europe Shrinkage Group
The next potential problem
respondents were asked to consider
related to the frequency with which
they had to respond to customers
who had inadvertently scanned the
same item more than once (possibly
in the belief that it had not been
recognised by the system on the first
occasion that they scanned it) (Figure
For nearly one-quarter of res-
pondents (23%) this was an hourly
or more frequent event while a
further one-third (30%) were of the
view that they had to deal with such an incident on a daily basis. For the rest, this was a less
frequent event, with 47 per cent of respondents considering this to be a relatively rare problem to
respond to as part of their responsibilities.
For supermarkets in particular, the
range of products they stock that
require some form of age
verification of the customer prior to
sale has grown considerably, and
include amongst other things items
such as alcohol, some health
products, glues, and sharp utensils.
In many respects there is little that
the retailer can do about minimising
these alerts they are usually a
statutory requirement but they can
still act as a constant source of
distraction for employees monitoring self-scan checkouts. The survey showed this to be the case,
with more than three-quarters of respondents saying this type of alert occurred on an hourly or
more frequent basis (75%). A further 11 per cent said it happened at least daily. Taken together,
nearly 90 per cent of the sample identified this type of alert as a very regular occurrence that they
had to respond to while supervising the stations under their control.
Staff Perceptions of Self-scan Checkouts
ECR Europe Shrinkage Group
The next problem respondents were
asked to consider was the frequency
with which customers forgot to
retrieve their change from the self-
scan checkout machine. This
problem raises two issues one
clearly relating to staff having to deal
with this if another member of the
public brings it to the attention, the
other is concerned with how
supervisors respond to finding
forgotten change in the self-scan
machines (keep it for themselves or
bring it to the attention of the
company?). Their responses to the frequency of this to type of event can be found in Figure 14.
Over one-fifth (20%) suggested it was a very frequent occurrence, happening hourly or more
often, while a further one-third (37%) thought that they had to deal with this issue on a daily
basis. The remaining 43 per cent thought this happened much less frequently (weekly or less).
The penultimate area that respondents
were asked to consider in relation to the
frequency with which problems occurred
when customers used self-scan
checkouts related to payment via debit
and credit cards (Figure 15). For the
most part, this was not an issue that was
perceived to occur on a frequent basis
just 10 per cent said this problem
occurred hourly or more frequently. The
majority of respondents were of the
view that this was something that
happened once a week or less (68%).
This relative infrequency is probably
explained by the growing familiarity most customers now have with using chip and pin in a wide
range of circumstances throughout the UK since its introduction in 2005/6.
Staff Perceptions of Self-scan Checkouts
ECR Europe Shrinkage Group
The final area that employees were asked
to comment upon was the frequency with
which they faced problems relating to
security devices attached to products (EAS
Tags and/or Safer Cases) (Figure 16).
This was clearly an area of considerable
concern, with 42 per cent of the sample
stating that they had problems with these
devices on an hourly basis or more
frequently. Moreover, a further one-quarter
(24%) said that they faced this problem on
a daily basis. Far fewer suggested this was a
less frequent event one-third saying it
was a weekly event or less, although this
number is skewed by those responding whose store environment did not use these devices. If the
‘not applicable’ responses are removed, then over one-half (53%) state this happened hourly or
more frequently. This is clearly an important issue and will be something this report returns to at
a later stage.
It is useful to summarise this data into one chart to try and identity those issues that respondents
consider to occur most frequently. Figure 17 shows the percentage of employees who thought
the various problems occurred on an hourly basis or more frequently.
As can be seen, the issue of customers not putting purchased items into bags on the weight-
checking plate is the problem identified by most respondents (82%). This is then, perhaps not
surprisingly, followed by problems triggered by age-related alerts (77%), then customers
forgetting their receipts (60%) and issues generated by security devices on products (53%). Those
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Staff Perceptions of Self-scan Checkouts
ECR Europe Shrinkage Group
appearing at the bottom of the list were a lack of change being available (4%), and issues relating
to the use of chip and pin devices (10%). While it is difficult to change the way in which
supervisors of self-scan checkouts respond to age-related triggers other areas may present
opportunities for future developments in the technology being used and the processes and
procedures adopted by retail companies. For instance, how could the number of alerts triggered
by weight issues be dealt with? Can the location of the receipt printer by altered to improve the
likelihood of a customer taking it with them? How might security devices or indeed self-scan
checkout machines be designed to minimise the number of problems that product security
technologies are clearly generating?
As detailed at the start of this section of the report, one of the key objectives of this study has
been to try and better understand the potential impact self-scan technologies might have on the
problem of shrinkage. The next section looks at responses to a series of questions that asked self-
scan supervisors about their experience of customers (and staff) purposefully trying to exploit the
self-scan technology (to steal product) together with their views on whether this type of
development has made it more or less likely for theft to occur. This is important data as it is
based upon respondents’ actual experiences of customers and staff trying to exploit these systems
and as such gives a unique insight into what is actually happening on a daily basis.
The first set of data looks at the number of staff who have witnessed customers purposefully
trying to abuse the system through some well known approaches (not scanning items, scanning
but not paying and so on). The subsequent data then looks at respondents’ views on the relative
ease of stealing product while using self-scan checkouts (for both customers and staff) and
concludes with their thoughts on the most common ways in which they think self-scan is
The first question asked
respondents whether they had
witnessed a customer purposefully
not scanning an item while using
the self-scan checkout machine
(Figure 18). As can be seen, nearly
two-thirds of respondents said that
they had seen a customer do this
(62%) while 38 per cent said they
had never seen this. There was no
difference across the retailers nor
did the length of training or type of
training respondents had received have any impact upon their likelihood to have witnessed an
incident of a customer not scanning an item. Not surprisingly, there was a strong correlation
between the length of time a respondent had worked on self-scan checkouts and the likelihood
that they had seen an incident of non scanning, but more interestingly, those staff who had to
Staff Perceptions of Self-scan Checkouts
ECR Europe Shrinkage Group
supervise more self-scan checkouts were more likely to have witnessed such as incident28. It
could be that customers using larger banks of self-scan checkouts where staff supervision is
inevitably lower are more emboldened to abuse the system than those using smaller groups of
self-scan checkouts where they might think they are more likely to be noticed. Alternatively, it
could be that staff supervising a greater number of checkouts are likely to witness more
transactions and hence have a greater opportunity to see a customer not scanning products.
The next question then asked all
respondents how often they thought
customers deliberately did not scan items
when using the self-scan checkouts (Figure
19). As can be seen, just 4 per cent
thought that it occurred every hour, while
a further 27 per cent said they were of the
view it was a daily occurrence. In contrast
one-quarter (25%) said it was only a
weekly event while the largest proportion
of respondents thought it was something
that happened less than weekly (44%).
This data is interesting in that it does not
suggest widespread abuse of the system by
customers (or staff) nearly three-quarters are of the view that it is a weekly event or rarer, with
only a tiny minority thinking it happens very regularly.
There were some interesting differences within the data. Again, perhaps not surprisingly, those
staff that had been working on self-scan checkouts the longest were more likely to think it was
easier for customers to steal than those who had relatively little experience of these systems29.
More interestingly, there was a strong correlation between the number of checkouts a respondent
had to supervise and the frequency with which they thought customers were abusing the system
the more checkouts they had to monitor the more frequent they thought it was happening30.
There was also a significant difference in perceived frequency between those who rated their risk
training as good or bad those who said their training on this had not been delivered well were
more likely to say customers were abusing the system more frequently31.
Respondents were then asked to estimate how easy they thought it was for customers not to scan
items and not get caught, with the options being very easy, easy, not very easy and difficult. The
answers are presented in Figure 20 below.
28 Some 57% of staff who supervised 4 checkouts or less had witnessed an incident of non-scanning compared with
72% of staff who had to monitor 6 checkouts or more; X2= 21.712; 2df; 0.000.
29 X2= 33.041; 6df; 0.000.
30 Pearson Correlation: -0.207; two-tailed; <0.01.
31 X2= 13.854; 3df; 0.003
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Staff Perceptions of Self-scan Checkouts
ECR Europe Shrinkage Group
The majority of employees were of the
view that it was not very easy for
customers to steal items by not scanning
them 12 per cent thinking it was
difficult and a further 46 per cent saying
it was not very easy. In contrast, a
sizeable proportion 42 per cent
thought it was easy or very easy for
customers to simply not scan items and
get away with it. There were some key
differences in the way particular types of
staff responded to this question. Firstly
and perhaps not surprisingly, there was
a correlation between those who
thought it was happening very frequently and those who thought it was easy32. More
interestingly, those staff who had worked the longest on self-scan checkouts were much more
likely to consider it easy or very easy for customers to steal by not scanning items. Similarly, those
who had the most checkouts to supervise were also of this view33. In addition, there was a
significant difference in the attitude of those who had and had not received training on self-scan
checkouts. Those who had not received any training at all were more inclined to think it was easy
as were those who had not received any risk training. In addition, those that had received training
but rated it as poor or not well done held similar views. It would seem that the delivery and
quality of the training on supervising self-scan checkouts significantly impacts upon how
employees view the relative ease with which customers can avoid scanning items and steal them.
Respondents were given the opportunity to elaborate on the view they had given in the previous
question. For those who thought it was easy or very easy, their views mainly centred around their
inability to keep an eye on all of the checkouts when they are busy as well as a number of
customer ‘scams’ which they had witnessed: ‘staff have to constantly multi-task and so can’t keep
an eye on everybody’; ‘constant problems with systems means it is difficult to keep an eye on all
of them’; ‘when my back is turned I can’t watch other tills’; ‘thieves can simply wait for staff to
be busy responding to another till’; ‘it is too easy for them [customers] to put in own bag and
press skip bag button’; ‘easy to use other [product] codes for more expensive items’; ‘put own
bag on floor and simply transfer items into it’; ‘press finish and pay button and then transfer
remaining goods into bags does not set off alert’; ‘easy to use wrong codes on fresh items’; very
light expensive items do not register on scales such as mascara’. Most of these are variations on
methods previously identified, primarily non-scanning and the use of alternate codes for items.
However, for the majority of staff who felt it was not easy, they thought that their presence was
key in generating sufficient risk to put off would be offenders: ‘staff are alert and vigilant; make it
difficult for them to get away with it’; ‘good training makes us aware to keep vigilant’; ‘CCTV and
guards in area acts as deterrent’; ‘position of pedestal makes customers aware of being watched’.
32 Pearson Correlation: 0.380; two-tailed; <0.01.
33 X2= 18.758; 6df; 0.005; X2= 64.886; 6df; <0.001
Staff Perceptions of Self-scan Checkouts
ECR Europe Shrinkage Group
They also highlighted the deterrent value of the weight plate and EAS hard tags in making it
difficult for customers to non-scan items: ‘hard tags have to be removed; makes it difficult to
steal expensive things’; ‘weight control stops a lot of theft’.
The second area that respondents were asked
to consider whether they had witnessed or not
related to customers purposefully selecting the
wrong loose item description (Figure 21). As
can be seen, nearly two-thirds said that they
had witnessed this (61%). As with the previous
issue, those who had worked for a greater
length of time on self-scan checkouts and had
to supervise more tills, were significantly more
likely to have witnessed a customer selecting
the wrong loose item description34. They were
also much more likely to consider non-
scanning of items to be more frequent and
easier than those who had not witnessed a customer selecting the wrong loose change
When asked how often they had witnessed
an incident of a customer using or trying to
use a stolen credit card (and trying to sign
for the purchase) while using a self-scan
checkout, the vast majority of respondents
stated they had not seen such an event
(95%) (Figure 22). As with the previous two
variables, the length of time working on
self-scan checkouts and the number of
checkouts being supervised generated
differences in the way this question was
answered. Those having a greater number of
checkouts to supervise and had worked the longest on them were more likely to have witnessed
an incident of a stolen credit card being used36.
34 X2= 15.583; 2df; <0.001; X2= 9.991; 2df; 0.007
35 X2= 20.442; 3df; <0.001; X2= 3.904; 1df; 0.048
36 X2= 21.892; 2df; <0.001; X2= 21.368; 2df; <0.001
Staff Perceptions of Self-scan Checkouts
ECR Europe Shrinkage Group
In terms of the misuse of vouchers and
coupons at self-scan checkouts, one-
quarter of respondents had witnessed a
member of the public doing this (25%)
(Figure 23). In line with the other variables
described above, again, it was those who
had worked the longest and had the most
tills to supervise who were more likely to
have witnessed such incidents37.
One of the self-scan scams identified
before this survey was where thieves would
actually scan all their items through the till
but then simply leave without actually
paying for any of them. Respondents were
asked how often they had witnessed such
incidents and the results are presented in
Figure 24 opposite. Perhaps surprisingly,
the majority of those completing this
question said that they had witnessed such
an incident (55%) happening while they
were monitoring self-scan checkouts. Once
again, longer serving self-scan supervisors
with a higher number of tills to monitor were more likely to have seen this happening38. In
addition, those witnessing such events also thought that non-scanning of items was very frequent
and easy to do39.
37 X2= 54.362; 2df; <0.001; X2= 164.633; 2df; <0.001
38 X2= 34.107; 2df; <0.001; X2= 7.563; 2df; 0.023
39 X2= 26.780; 3df; <0.001; X2= 16.593; 1df; <0.001
Staff Perceptions of Self-scan Checkouts
ECR Europe Shrinkage Group
The penultimate type of incident
respondents were asked to comment
upon was situations where they had
witnessed customers entering the wrong
value for price required items (Figure 25).
As can be seen, one-quarter of employees
responding to this survey stated that they
had witnessed a member of the public
commenting this offense (25%). In
contrast, the vast majority had never seen
this happen (75%). As with all the other
variables in this section, length of service
and number of checkouts monitored generated significant differences in responses to this
question those with a greater length of service and above the norm number of checkouts to
monitor were more likely to have witnessed this type of event40.
The final area in this section asked
respondents about how often they had
witnessed a thief using the self-scan zone
to exit the store without paying for items.
It is worth highlighting here that this is a
problematic question with respect to how
a member of staff would know if a thief
was exiting with stolen goods it can
only be assumed that their suspicions
were raised by relatively blatant attempts,
such as trolley push-outs. As can be seen
from Figure 26, nearly one-third of
respondents said that they had witnessed thieves using the self-scan area to exit the store with
stolen goods this is a significant percentage of the sample and confirms the views of some loss
prevention practitioners who have raised concerns about the ad hoc and unplanned nature of
early adoptions of self-scan technologies in supermarkets, where they have often been shoe
horned into exiting store plans with little regard for their potential impact upon store security.
The same differences in views of those who have been serving longer on self-scan checkouts and
have more tills to supervise were apparent, but there was also a difference in those who had been
trained for longer they were far more likely to have witnessed this than those who had received
40 X2= 15.575; 2df; <0.001; X2= 17.698; 2df; <0.001
Staff Perceptions of Self-scan Checkouts
ECR Europe Shrinkage Group
a relatively short course. This may suggest that the topic of thieves leaving via the self-scan area is
more likely to be covered when the course lasts longer than half a day41.
Figure 27 below brings together a summary of the previous data on the number of respondents
who had witnessed various types of self-scan abuse together with the data from a question asking
for their overall assessment of what they thought was the most common type of abuse. As can be
seen, there is almost perfect symmetry between the two sets of data those items that were
witnessed most often were also those that were considered to be the most common. In terms of
being witnessed and perceived as the most common abuse of self-scan checkouts, the non
scanning of items is considered the most prevalent 62 per cent of respondents said that they
had witnessed such an event and 37 per cent of the overall sample said this was the most
common problem. The second most prevalent type of abuse was not selecting the correct
description for loose items while the third was scanning items but not then paying for them. At
the other end of the scale, using stolen credit cards, entering the wrong value for price required
items and misusing voucher/coupons were the types of abuse there were considered less likely to
The final two questions in this section on abusing the self-scan checkout system asked
respondents to speculate on whether its introduction had made it more or less easy for customers
and employees to steal from the store. Figure 28 below summarises the data on respondents’
views on the impact upon the opportunity for customers to steal.
41 X2= 22.003; 2df; <0.001; X2= 13.125; 2df; <0.001; X2= 8.263; 3df; <0.041
9$ :9$ 89$ T9$ U9$ V9$ W9$ Z9$
K)8/#%);;)"# ,./"+88+A#
Staff Perceptions of Self-scan Checkouts
ECR Europe Shrinkage Group
As can be seen, the largest proportion of
respondents thought that the introduction of
self-scan checkouts had made no difference to
how easy or difficult it is for customers to
steal from the store (47%). However, there
was also a very significant proportion that
thought it had made it easier for them (44%)
with only a relatively small number thinking it
had made it less easy (9%).
There was significant variance in the way in
which different groups responded to this
question. Not surprisingly, given the earlier
data in this report, those who had worked the
longest on self-scan checkouts and had the
most tills to monitor were far more likely to think it was now easier for customers to steal42. In
addition, those who had not received any training (both general and specific to risk) were more
likely to think it was now easier for customers to steal and similarly, those who had received
training but had had a relatively short programme were of the same view43. The same response
was also forthcoming from those who thought that their training had been poor or not well
delivered (both general and risk-specific)44. The same group who thought that non-scanning of
items was happening very frequently and was very easy were also the same respondents who
thought that self-scan technologies had made it easier for customers to steal45.
Respondents were given an opportunity to explain in a little more detail why they thought that
self-scan checkouts had made it easier or not for customers to steal and their responses were very
similar to those outlined earlier, with those thinking it was easier highlighting their inability to
keep all of the tills under surveillance at once and the reactive nature of the work when it is busy.
Those that thought it was no different considered their training and vigilance as key factors in
not making it more easy for customers to steal together with the use of technologies such as the
weight checker plate, CCTV and EAS.
In addition to potentially making it easier or harder for customers to steal, there is also the
possibility that self-scan checkouts could be exploited by retail staff themselves. Respondents
were therefore asked a question concerning whether self-scan checkouts had made it more or less
easy for people who work in retail stores to steal (Figure 29).
42 X2= 22.355; 4df; <0.001; X2= 54.092; 4df; <0.001
43 X2= 7.431; 2df; 0.024; X2= 12.894; 2df; 0.02; X2= 16.222; 6df; 0.013
44 X2= 24.029; 4df; <0.001; X2= 14.666; 2df; 0.001
45 X2= 129.726; 6df; <0.000; X2= 203.836; 2df; <0.000
Staff Perceptions of Self-scan Checkouts
ECR Europe Shrinkage Group
Over two-thirds of respondents were of the
view that self-scan checkouts made no
difference to the ease with which retail
employees could steal from the store within
which they worked (67%). A further 16 per
cent thought that it made it less easy while
the remaining 17 per cent thought it made it
easier. Like the replies to the previous
question relating to customers, there were
significant differences in how different
groups responded. Key differences were
found in the views of those that had worked
the longest on self-scan checkouts and had
the most tills to supervise (they were more
likely to think it was now easier). Equally, those that did not rate their training highly or had not
received any training on stock loss were of the same view. Finally, those that had thought non-
scanning by customers was frequent and easy were also more likely to think self-scan technology
made it easier for staff to steal46.
Respondents were given the opportunity to explain why they thought self-scan checkouts had
made it more or less easy for staff to steal. For the vast majority who thought it made no
difference there rationale was that if a member of staff wanted to steal there were easier ways to
do it than through self-scan checkouts. In addition, they thought that most staff would not use
them anyway as they could not use their staff discount cards. They also thought that the level of
vigilance in this space was too high for staff thieves to take the risk CCTV, other staff, and
security guards.
As detailed at the start of this report, one of the concerns about self-scan checkouts is the extent
to which supervisors are able to effectively monitor them to ensure that they are not being
manipulated and abused by customers (and staff). The survey therefore had a series of questions
about this: the extent to which respondents felt they could monitor checkouts, how many
checkout do they think is appropriate for them to watch over and how they used the workstation
The first question asked employees whether they thought they were able to effectively monitor
the checkout for which they had responsibility. They were given three possible replies: yes, yes
but not when busyand no. The responses are summarised in Figure 30 below.
46 X2= 11.061; 4df; 0.026; X2= 23.363; 4df; <0.001; X2= 11.192; 4df; 0.024; X2= 6.647; 2df; 0.036; X2= 35.404; 6df;
<0.001; X2= 51.346; 2df; <0.001
Staff Perceptions of Self-scan Checkouts
ECR Europe Shrinkage Group
As can be seen, the largest proportion of
respondents felt that they could
effectively monitor the number of
checkouts for which they had
responsibility (48%). There were,
however, a significant minority that felt
they could only maintain effective control
when all the tills were not in use (38%).
There were 14 per cent of self-scan
checkout supervisors who did not think
they could not effectively monitor their
There was considerable difference in the
way in which different types of staff
responded to this question. Firstly, issues around training seem strongly connected with the way
in which employees responded. Those that had not received any training (both general and
specific to stock loss) were more likely to say they could not effectively monitor the self-scan
checkouts under their control47. Similarly, those that had received training but did not rate it
highly held the same view48. It would seem that giving staff good quality training can play a part
in enabling them to manage their responsibilities more effectively.
Secondly, there was also a strong relationship between the number of checkouts that respondents
currently had to monitor and their attitude towards whether they could effectively monitor them.
This data is summarised in Table 2 below.
Table 2 Number of Checkouts Currently Supervised and Perceived Ability to Monitor Them
Effectively Monitor
Number of Checkouts Currently Supervised
Eight or more
Per cent49
Yes but not all at once
As can be seen, those staff who have more checkouts to monitor are less likely to say they are
able to effectively supervise them. Whereas as over one-half of those who supervise four
checkouts say they can do this (54%), just over one-third who have six tills to monitor are of this
view (37%) while only 18 per cent those staff with eight or more checkouts suggest that this is
the case. At the other end of the spectrum, just 12 per cent of those with four checkouts to
monitor reckon they cannot effectively supervise them while one-third of those with eight or
more to look after think this is the case (33%). The data would suggest that once staff move
47 X2= 11.276; 2df; 0.046; X2= 20.357; 2df; <0.001
48 X2= 19.987; 4df; 0.001; X2= 10.893; 2df; 0.004
49 X2= 55.703; 4df; <0.001
Staff Perceptions of Self-scan Checkouts
ECR Europe Shrinkage Group
beyond monitoring four checkouts, they begin to struggle, especially at busy times, to provide
effective supervision and control.
The findings from the previous question were
confirmed when respondents were asked how
many checkouts they think they can
effectively monitor to ensure customers do
not have to wait too long for help or are able
to abuse the system. The results can be found
presented in Figure 31. Some 84 per cent of
respondents thought that the optimum
number of checkouts to supervise should be
four or less, with just 13 per cent thinking it
was six checkouts and a tiny minority
proposing eight (3%).
While those who had worked on self-scan
checkouts the longest were more inclined to
suggest they could handle a greater number of checkouts (18% suggesting six or more compared
with an average of 13% with less experience) the overwhelming view was that four or less
checkouts provided the optimum working environment for most respondents50. This was
confirmed when the data on the current number of checkout supervised was compared with this
data 94 per cent of those looking after fours checkouts opted for the same number or fewer
although there were nearly one-third of those with current responsibility for six checkouts who
said this was the right number of tills for them to supervise (33%). Perhaps not surprisingly, of
the relatively few respondents who had responsibility for eight or more (76) the vast majority
wanted less tills 85 per cent51.
The final question relating to the way in which respondents viewed their working environment
and their ability to remain vigilant was concerned with how they used the self-scan checkout
workstation. This is normally a podium that provides the supervisor with information about how
each of the tills is currently being used, including a visual display of the information relating to
the products being scanned by the customer. The reason for asking this question was to
understand the extent to which self-scan supervisors used this technology as a potential means of
achieving control and vigilance over the self-scan space.
50 X2= 20.810; 6df; 0.002
51 X2= 209.222; 6df; <0.001
Staff Perceptions of Self-scan Checkouts
ECR Europe Shrinkage Group
Respondents were asked to estimate how long
they spent standing behind the workstation
monitoring transactions, ranging from
‘frequently’ (every hour or more), through
‘often’ (two or three times per shift) to ‘never’
or ‘company policy is not to stand at the
workstation’. The results are presented in
Figure 32.
The most common response was that the
company policy was for them not to stand
behind the podium but instead be positioned
amongst the tills (34%). When this is
combined with those who said they never
stood behind the workstation (16%), then
one-half of respondents never monitored transactions via the available workstation. Of those
that did, one-fifth stated they did this hourly or more frequently while the remaining 30 per cent
suggested they would do this between one and three times per shift. There were some interesting
variations within the data relating to this question. Firstly, more experienced staff were more
likely to use the workstation to monitor transactions than those who were relatively new to
supervising self-scan checkouts 38 per cent of those who had worked on them for more than a
year would view the workstation often or frequently, compared with 26 per cent who had six
months or less experience52. Secondly, those who had not received any formal training on self-
scan checkouts were far more likely to use the workstation than those who had received training
over one-half of those with no training said they viewed it often or frequently (52%) compared
with 32 per cent of those who had received training. And of those that did receive training, those
receiving less than one day were also more inclined to view the workstation more frequently
(40% compared with an average of 29% for all other periods of training).
The penultimate section of this report
considers how many respondents stated that
they had actually caught a customer stealing
while using self-scan checkouts (Figure 33).
Just over one-third said that since they had
been working on these checkouts they had
caught somebody trying to steal (36%) the
majority said that they had not (65%). Perhaps
not surprisingly, those that had worked for
their company the longest were more likely to
have caught somebody, as were those who had
52 X2= 26.780; 8df; 0.001
89`$ !RD]
Staff Perceptions of Self-scan Checkouts
ECR Europe Shrinkage Group
worked on self-scan checkouts for more than a year53. Those that had caught somebody were
also much more likely to think that non-scanning of items was happening more frequently, was
very easy and customer theft in general had been made easier by the introduction of self-scan
checkouts their perception of risk had clearly been affected by their experience of catching
people stealing54. Rather more surprisingly, whether or not the respondent had received any
training, the length of that training and how they viewed it had no impact on the likelihood of
them catching a customer stealing via self-scan. There was also no difference of opinion between
those that had caught somebody stealing and those that had not in the optimum number of
checkouts that can be supervised it might have been expected that those with experience of
theft would have preferred less checkouts, but this does not seem to be the case.
The 336 respondents who said that they had apprehended somebody for trying to steal via self-
scan checkouts were given the opportunity to describe the methods used by those that they had
caught. Most incidents related to forms of non-scanning that the member of staff had witnessed:
‘unchecked items in push chair’; ‘claimed they forgot to scan item’; ‘left goods in own bag’;
‘scanned 1 instead of 4 items the same’; ‘Pressed finished and paid and then added extra items’.
Others related to scanning but not paying for items: ‘scanned items but then just walked away
without paying’; ‘said transaction had gone through but it hadn’t’; ‘walked away while I was
helping somebody else’; ‘problem with [payment] card and then just walked out with goods’.
Finally, a relatively few incidents that were observed by respondents employed a slightly higher
degree of sophistication: ‘used wrong code’; ‘customer put reduced sticker on product 37p
instead of £15.00’; and ‘large salad tray put through as small salad tray very common’. All of
these descriptions fall into the common categories identified earlier as the means by which self-
scan is abused by customers non-scanning of items, scanning but not paying, and using the
wrong product codes. These three methods seem to dominate the way in which self-scan
checkouts are abused.
The final area that respondents were asked to consider related to issues concerning self-scan
checkouts and the use of security tags on products. Employees were asked to consider four areas:
the frequency of problems relating to the use of soft (either source tagged or applied in-store)
and hard EAS tags (primarily applied in-store) in their stores, what degree of delay (if any)
occurred at self-scan checkouts due to these devices, and the overall impact self-scan had had on
the level of false EAS alarms in their store. The following data excludes the responses from those
who stated that their store did not use these devices.
53 X2= 7.872; 3df; 0.049; X2= 54.386; 2df; <0.001
54 X2= 88.191; 3df; <0.001; X2= 30.178; 1df; <0.001; X2= 48.273; 2df; <0.001
Staff Perceptions of Self-scan Checkouts
ECR Europe Shrinkage Group
In terms of soft EAS tags, the majority of
respondents suggested that this type of tag
caused problems at self-scan checkouts on a
daily basis or more frequently (51%), with
nearly one quarter suggesting it happened
hourly or more often (23%). Others thought
it was a less frequent event, with about one-
fifth thinking it happened about weekly with
just less than a one-third of the view it was a
relatively rare or non existent event (30%).
In some respects, the use of hard EAS
tags create additional problems for self-
scan supervisors this type of tag
cannot, as yet, be removed by the
customer and so they have to wait for
assistance to have this done. Similar
levels of problems were experienced
with hard tags as were found with soft
tags nearly one-half said that
problems occurred daily or more
frequently (48%) while one-fifth said
this happened only weekly (20%) and
the remainder (32%) less than weekly or
never. At first glance this result may
seem surprising as hard tags definitely
require staff intervention while soft tags generally do not. However, this may be explained by the
greater use of soft tags in general compared with hard tags, which are primarily used on clothing,
some high value spirits, health and beauty products and electrical items in the retail environments
under consideration.
Respondents were then asked to comment upon the extent to which the use of security devices
on products being processed through self-scan checkouts caused unduly long delays for
Staff Perceptions of Self-scan Checkouts
ECR Europe Shrinkage Group
The results can be found in Figure 36
opposite. About one-fifth of self-scan
checkout supervisors (21%) thought
this occurred daily with only a tiny
minority thinking it happened more
often (6% thought on an hourly or
more frequent basis). The vast majority
nearly three-quarters (73%)
considered delays caused by security
devices as a relatively infrequent event.
However, those with a higher number
of checkouts to supervise were much
more likely to think it happened more
often 15 per cent of those with four
checkouts said it happened daily or
more frequently, compared with 31 per cent of those with responsibility for six tills and 56 per
cent of those with eight tills or more to supervise55. This viewpoint was reinforced with the data
on whether respondents thought they could effectively monitor the number of checkout for
which they had responsibility. Those who said they could not were far more were likely to say
that delays with security devices were more frequent56.
The final question from this
survey asked respondents what
impact, if any, the introduction
of self-scan checkouts had had
on the frequency of EAS false
alarms in their store. As
mentioned before, this data
excludes the responses from
those who said EAS was not
present (Figure 37). The
majority of respondents were
of the view that self-scan
checkout had not had any
impact upon the frequency of
false alarms (52%). A significant proportion, however, thought that it had gone up to a certain
extent or considerably – 43 per cent, while only a tiny minority thought the rate had actually
come down (5%). There was little meaningful variation within the data, although those who felt
55 X2= 80.913; 4df; <0.001
56 X2= 22.578; 4df; <0.001
Staff Perceptions of Self-scan Checkouts
ECR Europe Shrinkage Group
unable to effectively monitor the number of checkouts they had been allocated were more
inclined to think that the rate of false alarms had gone up considerably 19 per cent compared
with just 9 per cent of those who said they could effectively manage their self-scan area57.
57 X2= 27.761; 6df; <0.001
Discussion and Conclusions
ECR Europe Shrinkage Group
The data from the survey, the retailer case studies and various interviews with practitioners has
generated a number of fascinating results, some perhaps predictable but others much less so. The
purpose of this section is to draw together the key findings to help develop a better
understanding of how self-scan checkouts are operating in the retail environment and how any
associated risks of shrinkage can be minimised.
The starting point is to first understand a little bit of criminological theory that will help to
explain why some people commit crime. This is important because without it, it is impossible to
begin to understand the potential risk posed by self-scan checkouts. Underlying most decisions
to offend is a series of rational choices that are bounded by a particular individuals
circumstances (their bounded rationality). There are four key questions that prospective
offenders usually consider when deciding to commit an offence or not: What is the risk of being
caught; how easy is it to commit the offence, what is the perceived reward, and if I am caught
how severe is the subsequent punishment likely to be? So, if we take an everyday example of
speeding in a car to elaborate how this might work:
1. What is the risk of being caught? there are no speed cameras nor police cars visible, so
2. how easy is it to commit? just press the accelerator pedal down more, so EASY;
3. what is the perceived reward? I need to get to an important meeting on time and I am
late, so HIGH;
4. how severe is the likely punishment if I am caught? as long as my speeding is not
excessive, a few points on my licence and a small fine, so relatively LOW.
Given this calculation, you are very likely to speed. Alternatively, if you were being followed by a
police car, then while all the other factors would still suggest speeding makes sense, the risk of
detection is so high as to override all other considerations. Indeed, research suggests that the risk
of being caught is probably the most important factor in explaining the decision to offend or not
(but not always as detailed below).
The same principle applies to self-scan checkouts these four factors will be considered by
would-be thieves (be they amateurs/opportunists or professionals) when they are considering
whether to steal via these checkouts how likely is it that I will be caught doing this; is it
relatively easy to do, is the reward sufficient, and if I am caught what is likely to happen to me?
For those tasked with preventing this type of theft taking place, the key is to try and impact upon
these four factors so that offenders think they are: highly likely to get caught; and/or it is difficult
to commit the offense; and/or the reward is just not worth it; and/or the punishment far
outweighs the benefit.
The results from the survey and other aspects of this research study have been combined in
Figure 38 below to develop a model that explains how the risk of theft via self-scan checkouts
can be both understood and more critically minimised.
Discussion and Conclusions
ECR Europe Shrinkage Group
For retailers using self-scan checkouts, the easiest decision factors to impact upon are perceived
risk and the ease of offending. Certainly the expected punishment can be influenced to an extent
all offenders apprehended could be handed over to the police without fail, but self-scan
checkouts presents a real challenge in this respect, certainly compared to other forms of shop
theft. The difficulty is proving sufficient intent on the part of the offender as they have a series of
potentially ready-made excuses‘I thought I had scanned that item’, or ‘I thought my credit card
had been accepted’, or ‘I thought I had selected the right type of fruit’, and so on and so on. The
degree of ‘wriggle-room’ for a would-be offender is considerable with self-scan checkouts and
anecdotal evidence from the retailers taking part in this study suggest that very few convictions
have been secured for people caught stealing via self-scan checkouts. The degree of customer
interaction with relatively sophisticated technology is probably sufficient to enable most non-
serial offenders to successfully use the ‘ignorance’ defence at the point of contact with store
It is also difficult, though not impossible for the retailer to impact upon perceived reward for
most types of product. This approach has been found to be successful on certain products
utilising particular types of security devices, for instance the use of highly resilient tags/caps on
bottles of spirits where the only real prospect of a thief enjoying the fruits of their endeavour is
for them to physically break the bottle open. This makes it impossible to sell on and potentially
risky to consume personally. Another example would be the use of EAS dye tags on clothing that
releases a non-washable staining dye on the product when the tag is forcibly removed. Both of
these are examples of ‘benefit denial’ were the reward is simply not worth the effort required.
Risk of
Creating a Zone of Control
Distractions and Firefighting
Number of: Alarms; Alerts;
Checkouts; Customers; Errors
Channelling; Visibility
Podium Placement;
Exit Control
Supervisors; Guards
CCTV; Tills
Ease of
Discussion and Conclusions
ECR Europe Shrinkage Group
While such an approach can and does work on some products, as yet the principle is not
applicable across the majority of products stocked by large supermarkets where self-scan
checkouts are most prevalent.
So in terms of impacting upon the decision-making processes of the would-be offender in the
self-scan arena, two factors seem critical the likelihood of being caught and the ease of
committing the offencehow can the aspiring thief be made to feel like they are highly likely to
get caught and/or it would be a relatively difficult offence to commit?
The evidence suggests that this can be best achieved through creating a zone of control a
space where the thief feels vulnerable to apprehension and where stealing would be difficult to
achieve. It would seem that this zone of control can be created by two elements: surveillance and
Surveillance in this respect refers to both physical watching as well as the electronic monitoring
of customer activities. This can be achieved by humans directly, such as through the presence of
store guards, self-scan checkout supervisors or other store employees in close vicinity to
customers. It can also be done indirectly by humans through the use of CCTV technologies or
through self-scan monitoring podiums that provide the facility to carry out remote surveillance.
The third way it can be achieved is by technologies alone such as through the tills themselves
‘monitoring’ what customers are doing and creating alarms and alerts should ‘suspect’ or
unconventional behaviour be detected.
In terms of humans, the survey suggested three key factors were important in enabling this form
of surveillance to be successful in raising would-be thieves awareness of being watched (and
hence increasing their perceived risk of being caught): vigilance, proximity, and deviancy
identification. Vigilance refers to the ability of staff to be aware of what all customers using the
self-scan checkouts are doing at any time; proximity relates the nearness of employees to
customers in this area; and deviancy identification relates to the ability of self-scan checkout
supervisors to recognise suspicious activities or tactics being employed by miscreants. All three of
these factors can be potentially undermined however, and the survey highlighted some of the key
areas, which are discussed below.
Staff themselves in response to the survey recognised the importance of being vigilant as a key
way of reducing the likelihood of non-scanning and other forms of abuse occurring. However,
there were a number of factors that were found to be reducing the capability of staff to achieve
this. First, there were a series of frequent distractions, the key ones being: customers having
problems with the weight-plate checker; barcodes that would not scan; customers not being able
to identify the correct product description or scanning an item more than once; age-related alerts;
and problems with security devices on products, primarily various types of EAS tag. While the
age-related issue is perhaps difficult to resolve given the statutory nature of the event, the others
are certainly addressable. For instance, problems with barcodes: does it relate to particular
products only, is it to do with the way the product is set up on the retailers system, does it relate
Discussion and Conclusions
ECR Europe Shrinkage Group
to the location of the barcode on the product or the way it is printed on the packaging, both of
which require the involvement of the manufacturer? Similarly, is there a need to begin to think
about how the weight-plate checker operates to reduce the extent to which it generates alerts
requiring the involvement of staff? Its function is clearly there to act as a very overt form of
check on the activity of the customer, but are there ways to minimise the number of false
positives being generated? In addition, can the way in which customers interact with the product
description function for loose items be improved to reduce the problems associated with this
part of the process?
The second key area identified by the survey was the number of self-scan checkouts a supervisor
had responsibility for at any one time. The data was unequivocal in this respect as the number
of checkouts increased, the more likely staff were to say they could not provide proper vigilance
and control over their area. The data suggests that once staff have more than four stations to
supervise (at busy times) then the level of control is significantly and negatively affected.
Finally, the issue of security devices as a source of distraction was also highlighted on several
occasions in the survey and by the case study retailers. The use of EAS tags is now widespread in
retailing they have a 35-40 year history, but their design and the processes for their use are
firmly premised upon a model where trained retail staff, usually at the checkout, have
responsibility for their removal and/or deactivation. While the rate of false alarms under the old
scenario was a major cause for concern for some retailers, the introduction of self-scan has seen
this problem further exacerbated. Customers simply do not have the knowledge, motivation,
training or awareness to consistently and reliably deactivate EAS tags using most forms of
existing technology. There is a need, therefore, for self-scan manufacturers to work more closely
with the producers of product security devices to begin to develop more integrated systems that
enable retailers to continue to use security devices on certain products but do not create major
distractions for staff when it comes to customers using self-scan checkouts.
Being able to create an aura of control in the self-scan zone is also premised upon the extent to
which checkout supervisors are able to be close to those using the equipment although this can
also be achieved virtually through the use of CCTV and indeed till technologies. The survey
explored these issues in terms of where employees were primarily located with regards to the self-
scan podium. The survey showed that most companies preferred supervisors not to regularly
stand behind the podium but rather ‘mingle’ amongst the consumers. In many respects this was
inevitable given the fire-fighting nature of the work of many of these employees they simply
did not have the opportunity if they wished to, to stand behind the podium because they were
constantly reacting to alarms, alerts and other activations requiring their attention. It seems clear,
however, that companies are adopting the correct approach (certainly if they want to increase the
level of vigilance) by generally insisting that supervisors do not spend too long behind the
Proximity can also be achieved virtually and remotely through the strategic positioning of CCTV
cameras and monitors in the self-scan area and through the way in which the self-scan checkouts
themselves generate a sense of ‘presence’ through the employment of alarms, alerts and prompts.
Discussion and Conclusions
ECR Europe Shrinkage Group
This is already a key component of most modern designs of self-scan checkouts for instance
the system will insist (unless told otherwise) that scanned products are put in a bag on the weight
checker and it will refuse to continue until the customer acquiesces. Clearly, as mentioned earlier,
the degree to which there may be human vigilance degradation as a consequence of too many of
these types of checks is an issue that needs to be addressed. It may be that there is a balance to
be struck between the amount of human vigilance versus machine vigilance employed, where a
reduction in the latter may be more than outweighed by an increase in the former supervisors
being required less to act as fire fighters (responding to machine-driven concerns) and have more
time to be able to create a stronger perception of a highly surveilled and controlled zone. This
will only happen, however, if the staff are sufficiently well motivated and trained to carry out this
The survey generated some striking data concerning the importance of training and how it can
have an impact upon the ability of self-scan checkout supervisors to identify suspect and actual
deviant behaviour. It is worth noting first of all that the survey was very clear that training
mattered and that the shorter the training course the less likely staff were to be not only happy
with it, but also capable of dealing with the unique environment that is the self-scan checkout
zone. It would seem that the length of the training course should be longer than half a day and
should include a range of issues relating to shrinkage and theft, not least non-scanning, mis-
scanning, scanning but not paying, swapping products and push throughs (between 1 and 2 days
would seem the norm for delivering valued training). What was also clear was that those staff
who felt more able to control the self-scan area and considered that it was neither easy nor a
frequent event for customers to not scan items were those who had been trained (both how to
use the system and issues concerning shrinkage and theft). What was also apparent was the
strong link between those staff that recognised the importance of vigilance in reducing the risk of
theft and training those that had not received any were far more likely not to recognise it as
important or carry out duties that enhanced their ability to deliver it (for instance non-trained
staff were more likely to stand behind the podium). So the role of training would seem a very
important part in giving supervisors the skills and knowledge (particularly of potential ways in
which customers might try and abuse the system) to help them create a zone of control through
The second part of creating a zone of control for self-scan checkouts is the way in which the
space is designed. There is considerable criminological research which has been undertaken
which shows the way in which the physical environment within which crime occurs can play a
role in generating opportunity as well as acting as a form of deterrence. It was found that the way
in which the environment was designed could create spaces where offenders felt they were less
likely to be caught, primarily due to the way in which they could remain out of sight of
‘guardians’, reducing their concerns about being apprehended. It seems clear that this research is
pertinent to the way in which self-scan checkouts have been located in retail stores. Early
adopters of self-scan checkouts tended to place the machines in existing free space in the store
Discussion and Conclusions
ECR Europe Shrinkage Group
usually at the end of the banks of normal checkouts, which frequently meant they were very near
the exit and located in relatively open spaces. Figure 39 offers a simplistic outline of what this
often looked like (and for some
retailers continues to be the case).
There is little sense of control
around the self-scan checkouts
they are not enclosed, provide easy
access to the exits and give little
sense of a controlled environment.
Problems associated with this type
of layout were clearly identified in
this research, not least the
percentage of respondents to the
survey who claimed to have
witnessed thieves exiting the store
through the area with stolen goods.
In addition, the relatively open spaces and the fluid connection with the shopping space creates a
sense of the area being uncontrolled. Potential thieves (both opportunistic and professional)
would consider this space as one
that does not unduly raise the
prospect of them being more likely
to be caught using self-scan
checkouts. This is certainly the case
when one compares this space with
the more traditional checkout
arrangement where the customer is
carefully corralled through a strictly
limited space between tills, and is
under relatively close and constant
scrutiny by an individual member
of staff.
What is apparent from some of the
case-study companies taking part in
this study is that this sense of
control needs to, in part, be
replicated with self-scan checkout
areas. Opposite is an idealised sense
of what this might look like (Figure
40). In this scenario the self-scan
area is moved away from the
entrance/exit area of the store,
minimising the opportunity for
thieves to use this area as an easy
Discussion and Conclusions
ECR Europe Shrinkage Group
walk through area with stolen items. It has also become an enclosed space, cordoned off from
the rest of the store by a barrier, with a single entrance and clearly identifiable exit points.
Customers can be easily corralled into the space and critically it gives a sense of control it has
boundaries and a sense or order. With the location of the podium near the exits acting as a visual
reminder of the surveillance capabilities of the technology, a member of staff can move easily
between the stations responding to alerts and, hopefully, having the opportunity to create a sense
of being a guardian of control, offering help where necessary but also providing a presence that
heightens would-be offenders perception of the risk of apprehension. Clearly not all retailers will
have the opportunity to create such spaces in all their outlets, but the principles underlying this
model are the key to minimising the risk of shrinkage from self-scan checkouts creating the
sense that the area is under control and that apprehension is a real possibility.
While current criminological research on understanding offender behaviour lends itself well to
informing the debate on how to secure self-scan checkouts, there is an additional element that
has become apparent from this research that of the reluctant or ‘justified’ offender. A
significant number of respondents to the survey identified examples of where customers had
taken goods through self-scan without paying for them because despite what they considered to
be their best efforts the ‘technology’ let them down and they therefore either reluctantly took the
product, or felt justified in taking it because it was not their fault if the ‘system’ did not work. In
many respects this behaviour fits with the work of Sykes and Matza’s on neutralisation the way
in which offenders can justify their illicit actions by having what they consider to be legitimate
excuses ‘I tried everything I could to pay but the machine wouldn’t accept my money’; ‘the
barcode just wouldn’t work and there wasn’t any help around’; ‘they’re a big company and they
can afford it’, ‘it’s their fault I tried to pay for it but it wouldn’t work so tough luck’. It would
seem that these types of theft, in part driven by the ‘frustration factor’ of the self-scan technology
not working properly (in their view) fits well with this thinking, and points to offender whom
would not normally steal from retailers but when pushed beyond a particular frustration
threshold can justify not paying for the products which are causing the problem the essentially
adopt the ‘self-scan defence’.
A similar type of behaviour, although perhaps driven by a different motivation, has been
identified with traditional checkouts where an operator faced with a product that will not scan
will eventually simply give the product away to save time and hassle. They will justify it as
perhaps good customer service (not slowing up the checkout process) and or as the fault of the
business and not them (the company should make sure the barcodes work). What may be
different in the self-scan checkout environment, and more research is required to understand this
further, is the threshold at which a customer will decide they have ‘tried their best’ and then feel
perfectly justified to take the product without paying. This is certainly linked to a number of the
factors highlighted earlier in the survey the number of alerts generated by barcodes, security
devices, the weight checker plate, product selection, and so on as well as the ability of supervisors
to react quickly enough to them. This certainly points to the importance of minimising error and
frustration otherwise the ‘reluctant/justified’ offender may increasingly reduce the threshold at
which they decide enough is enough and make a ‘rationale’ judgement to offend.
Discussion and Conclusions
ECR Europe Shrinkage Group
The results from this study suggest that the impact of self-scan technologies on levels of
shrinkage in retailers employing this technology is somewhere between neutral and perhaps a
slight increase in overall levels of loss. In terms of a ROI, the picture is much clearer and
profound one of the case-study retailers concluded that there is a labour saving of nearly 200
hours per self-scan store per year with some saving ‘considerably more’. However, for this to be
achieved successfully the self-scan space needs to be carefully designed and controlled the risk
of detection must remain high and ease of stealing made difficult creating zones of control can
achieve this but the barriers to this need to be addressed.
In some markets the growth of self-scan is likely to be considerable as retail margins become
squeezed and demands for greater organisational efficiencies puts yet further pressure on staffing
levels. Retail customers are beginning to be familiarised with the way in which self-scan operates
(not unlike the way customers had to learn how to ‘shop’ in self-selection stores in the last
century) and it is not clear how if at all offending may change as this familiarity begins to grow
contempt. Will the new generations of self-scan users be better equipped to exploit the system as
their experience and confidence grows? Equally, will we see the number of frustrated/justified
offenders rise if the constant del