Sunday, November 29, 2009

Self-Service Checkout

Our local Woolworth's store has just introduced self-service checkout machines. I've used these before at Big-W (pictured) and in the US. After today's experience though it seemed to me that it would be so easy to rip the store of and steal stuff when using these machines:

1. The machine asked me how many mangoes I had. If I put one instead of the four I actually had, how would anyone know?

2. If I told the machine I had some cheap vegetable in place of the one I actually had how would anyone know?

Or are they planning on random audits of customers leaving the store? I didn't see any evidence of that.

Also I could just leave some stuff in the trolley/cart and not check it out as there doesn't seem to be an electronic security system in place. Or would I get caught if I tried to pull these tricks off?


Chris said...

I wondered about this too, if the occasional stock loss was sufficiently offset by the reduced cost of operations and wages. Then I watched an aboriginal lady using the machine next to me put a ~10kg ham on the scales, and enter it as brown onions, $1.29/kg. Probably about a $100 theft in one incident. I hate to think how much of this occurs nationally by dishonest shoppers?

However, I must say that the self check seems to have brought queue times down substantially, which I like. said...

For some things (like the number of mangoes) I think there is probably some checking logic (eg. a maximum weight for one item 'X'). For the other things (like weighing a ham and entering the item type as onions) they would rely on the usual random (?) bag checks of some customers.

Like with most theft, the majority of people choose to not break the law (either because of personal ethics, or because the prospective penalty if caught outweighs the benefit). The store tries to catch a few shop-lifters for the deterrent value, but overall they just allow for a certain amount of 'shrinkage' (that's the term - no kidding) and pass the cost on to customers as much as possible.

In the case of auto-checkouts, the increased level of theft would have to be less than the cost- saving via staff reductions, otherwise they wouldn't bother.

In the auto-checkouts that I've used there has always been a staff member hovering about, as they have to check and authorise CC charges where the customer signs rather than using a PIN. I expect these staff are supposed to also be on the lookout for shop lifters.

mOOm said...

Yes, obviously they must have done a cost-benefit on this and decided it makes sense. In the short-run stores that have this may have higher profits due to saving on staff perhaps. In the long-run there would be a new equilibrium where all stores use auto checkout for smaller purchases and they'll just need to accept a higher rate of "shrinkage". Aldi takes a different approach to speeding up/streamlining the existing check out process...