Can humanizing self-checkouts reduce theft?
Researchers from Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Australia believe theft is high at self-checkouts partly because shoppers feel less guilty about stealing from a machine than a human being.
At self-checkout terminals, thefts often involve leaving out a few items when scanning. Offenders also commonly punch in a lower price-per-pound item when scanning produce. A U.K. study from 2016 found one-third of customers regularly steal through self-checkouts with fruits, vegetables, breads and confectionary being the most commonly stolen items.
One way to reduce theft, according to Queensland University of Technology researchers, is adding more staff to monitor self-checkouts to increase the perceived risk of being caught. Another is outright prosecution warnings near the checkouts.
But the researchers also said subtler ways can reduce the “deviance threshold” or the point at which people do things they know are wrong.
- Extreme-personalization: Greeting the shopper when they put in their loyalty card can remove the anonymity of the self-checkout transaction and make the shopper more uncomfortable about stealing. Pinging shoppers with special offers on their mobile phones can also reduce anonymity.
- Conversational scripts: Displaying friendly comments on pop-up screens, such as “Welcome” or “Hope your day is going well,” can create a less robotic connection when working with machines and thereby reduce the inclination to steal.
- Moral triggers: Retailers may display a message indicating that a wide majority of customers buying red onions “actually swiped them as red ones, not the cheaper brown onions” to encourage similar behavior. A message thanking the shopper for their contribution via regular purchases to a store’s donation to a local charity may also reduce deviant behavior.
Speaking to Australia’s news.com.au, lead researcher Paula Dootson said, “This is about changing the behavior of people that steal just a little bit because that’s actually worse for the supermarkets than the few people that steal a lot.”
- Why self-service checkouts are not necessarily an easy win for retailers – Smart Company
- New study to look at the clever strategies to cut down on self-serve checkout theft – news.com.au
- Humanising self-serve check-outs could help fight theft: researcher – Herald Sun
- Where do consumers draw the line? An investigation of deviant consumer behavior – Queensland University of Technology
- Self-checkout theft is habit forming – RetailWire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What do you think of potential tactics to humanize self-service checkouts in order to reduce theft? Which of the options offered in the article makes the most sense to you?