Personal Finance

Surprise: Some grocery stores moving away from self-checkout

Walmart, ShopRite, Wegmans, Costco and Five Below are among the retailers that have announced self-checkout policy changes.

Surprise: Some grocery stores moving away from self-checkout
Bebeto Matthews/AP
SMS

Self-checkout lanes were first introduced in grocery stores in the 1980s to bring down labor expenses.

But fast-forward a few decades and things are changing to the point where some stores are now slowing down the move to self-checkout, which some had predicted would take over grocery shopping by now.

More stores sticking with human clerks

Despite new technology, such as Kroger's conveyor belt self-checkout, the newest trend at some other stores is keeping human clerks around. One such store is the Rivertown IGA, where they still do things the old-fashioned way.

Longtime customer Jennifer Parker would preferably check out with the help of a cashier.

"I prefer to come to a person and let them do it because I always screw stuff like that up," she said while paying for groceries with the help of her favorite checkout clerk.

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While this IGA now has two self-checkout lanes, marketing director Heather Frye says the fully staffed checkouts are here to stay because most of their customers like them.

"They love talking to their ladies, they love gossiping, they love catching up on what's going on in town," she said.

So Frye says the store is keeping all its old-style lanes and keeping all its clerks as well.

Self-checkout theft costing millions

Right now, more stores are rethinking self-checkout. It is not just because the lanes can be confusing to older shoppers but because of theft.

Matt Schulz, chief credit analyst for Lendingtree, says "shrinkage" has been getting worse and worse since the pandemic, despite the latest technology that includes cameras.

"You're not just talking about people walking away with a couple of candy bars," he said.

He says 15% of Americans admit to stealing from self-checkouts on purpose for an average of $60.

For instance, a shopper may ring up organic bananas as regular bananas or do even more complicated switcheroos. Accidents happen, too.

"We've all got our minds 500 different places," he said.

But those incidents, both deliberate and accidental, add up to equal "shrink." Schulz says that gives companies with self-checkout a theft loss rate double the industry average.

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In the last few months, Walmart, ShopRite, Wegmans, Costco and Five Below are some of the retailers that have announced self-checkout policy shifts and are reducing the number of self-checkout lanes in some stores.

Many shoppers will notice the impact.

"About 40% of folks say that they almost always use self-checkout," Schulz said.

Among them are younger shoppers like Shay Crosby.

"I love it. I am a big fan of self-checkout," she said.

But with fewer options available in some areas, shoppers like Crosby may have to go back to the traditional checkout lanes at some stores.

Frye says shoppers at her IGA will always have the personal touch of live human clerks at the store, even as technology moves forward.