Retail Customer Experience: Self-checkout and alcohol – a dangerous mix?
Cooper, Contributing Editor
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of a current article from Retail
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machines have been a mainstay in America’s grocery stores and supermarkets
for some time, but there is growing concern that some shoppers may take
advantage of the technology to illegally purchase alcohol.
A study published
in June by a UCLA Law School clinic and the advocacy group Los Angeles
Alliance for a New Economy, or LAANE, has highlighted that very issue.
the research, in two-thirds of their visits to specific grocery chains,
participants saw only one employee working at the self-checkout area,
and in five instances, they saw no self-checkout attendant at all. Additionally,
though it is the industry standard for clerks to check the ID of anyone
who appears under the age of 30, one-third of the participants reported
that they were not asked for their ID, and only one participant was ever
asked to give her date of birth.
“In combination,” the study said, “low numbers of employees supervising self-checkout
machines, obstructed views and long wait times enhance the risk of error
in monitoring alcohol purchases and may make it easier for customers to purchase
alcohol illegally, either through deception or theft.”
The study’s results also indicate that in eight instances, the self-checkout
system didn’t lock when alcohol was scanned, and that in 11 cases, participants
were able to “override” the system, either by scanning another item, swiping
a credit card or both. In total, the study says participants were able to
override a locked self-checkout machine or bypass the employee-override process
19 times out of 97, or in 20 percent of the visits.
While the study
attributes a great deal of the problem to a lack of employee oversight,
it also very clearly places blame on the technology itself, and some
in the self-service industry aren’t sure that’s fair.
issued a statement saying that human error was the more likely cause
of the self-checkout breakdowns, not the machines themselves.
is that retailers should and do consistently monitor to ensure that the
correct procedures are in place and that staff are applying them correctly
and consistently,” the statement said. “However, it is also very important
to understand that the LAANE study incorrectly describes how NCR self-checkout
works and therefore its conclusions regarding self-checkout are likewise
a bill was recently introduced in California that would require the sale
of alcohol to be routed only through a traditional checkout lane.
“This is just
my opinion, but I think that’s a shame,” said Kenneth Duffy, IBM’s kiosk
offering marketing manager, when he learned of the proposed legislation. “I
think, really, all it takes is a little bit of time and resources to
train the employees to make sure that they recognize that this is a big
Are there serious challenges to self-checkout systems involving the
sale of alcohol and other age-limit items? Does this limit the technology’s
potential? What basic procedures might have to be added to prevent