Grocery store

On one hand, a self checkout line can benefit grocery stores because it doesn’t require a salaried employee and it can theoretically keep shoppers moving through to the exit faster.

On the other hand, the self checkout may entice some otherwise-honest shoppers to think about not paying for all of their groceries and walk away with a few freebies.

The newest issue of The Atlantic highlights the problem and points out that one commenter on the popular social media website Reddit proclaimed “[a]nyone who pays for more than half of their stuff in self checkout is a total moron.”

There may be a measure of hyperbole in that comment but the problem appears to be fairly widespread. A 2015 study conducted by criminologists at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom found that theft in the cost of stolen goods more than doubled after stores introduced self checkout lines.

As The Atlantic noted, the Leicester researchers audited 1 million self checkout transactions over the course of a year. They discovered that in the $21 million in sales that was rung up, more than $850,000 worth of goods end up not being scanned and paid for by customers.

Similar results were found in a study by Voucher Codes Pro, a UK-based website that features online coupon codes and deals. The company surveyed 2,634 people, according to The Atlantic, and nearly 20 percent admitted to stealing from the self checkout line. More than half of the respondants told Voucher Codes Pro that they decided to steal because the odds of getting caught in the self checkout lines seemed remote.

Why do the self checkout lines seem to bring out the desire in customers to pinch a few goods for free? The University of Leicester study authors stated the customers’ frustration with the technology (the need to call over a human employee to verify the customer’s age or the often-heard warning ‘unexpected item in bagging area’) could trigger an aggressive response by the shopper.

The study went on to note that retailers made theft so easy that shoppers who would not normally think of stealing are now tempted to commit crime. The worst part is that these shoppers may even see it as a normal part of shopping now.

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