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Dutchess_III's avatar

How much money do you think grocery stores lose because of the self service scanners?

Asked by Dutchess_III (38335points) June 12th, 2011

I’ve always known I could beat the thing, I choose not to. Today, however, I was punching in the number for Portebella mushrooms, and accidentally punched in the code for lettuce. It asked me to list the quantity. Since I’d already screwed up I just punched in 1 for the hell of it (I had 4.) I was curious to see what might happen. Would a big sign flash on the screen calling me a liar? Would lights and sirens come on? Nope. Nothing. A charge of $1.99 came up. I shook my head, and called the cashier over to correct my mistake, knowing full well that the charge for the Ports was going to be a lot more than $1.99. (Like, $7.95 as it turns out.)

Do you know of anyone who plays those scans to their advantage?

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36 Answers

marinelife's avatar

Usually the self-service scanners have a store employee assigned to oversee them. I suppose some dishonest people do cheat, but not many.

Seaofclouds's avatar

When I was working at a retail store and we first put in those self scan registers, we caught all kinds of people trying to cheat the stores. Some would just try to act like they were scanning things and then bagging them, some would have multiple things in their hand while scanning and put all the things in the bag even though they only scanned one, and others would actually switch the tags on items in order to get a more expensive item for less. A lot of that became less of an issue as the scanners were able to be programmed for the weight of an item and recognize when an item didn’t match in weight. As far as how much money the stores actually lose, I have no clue. I imagine they lose quite a bit though over time.

I also know stores that have lost money and customers by only having the self scan registers open because customers have walked out instead of going through the self scan registers. I know it’s not what you asked, but I wanted to offer another perspective. My uncle will not go through a self scan register. To him, those registers are taking away jobs from people that need them. He will go wait in a long line at a cashier instead and if there aren’t any cashiers open (he’s been in this situation a few times), he will leave the store completely, without making his purchase. I’m sure he’s in the minority in this aspect, but it’s interesting to me.

Mariah's avatar

They also gain money from the cashiers they don’t have to employ, so it might even out.

Dutchess_III's avatar

There used to be an overseer @marinelife, but there is no one now.

Like tomatoes. You could get those uber expensive vine ripened tomatoes and plug them in as Roma…it’d never know.

JLeslie's avatar

I would guess the vast majority of people use the honor system, and do not try to get away with cheating the store. There is probably a calculation they use for expected theft vs. paying three more employees, as typically there is one employee for 4 self scanners. In retail, inside theft is the biggest cause of shrinkage, causing approximately 50% of shrinkage. I am not sure what the specific percentage is for supermarkets, or stores like Home Depot.

Now, I have to say I am surprised to hear @Seaofclouds examples, and they sound like they happened all of the time?

Dutchess_III's avatar

@JLeslie Well it would be SO easy to do.

Cruiser's avatar

It kind of sucks that you knowingly would game the system like that as in the end losses come back to us in higher prices. But I have seen paid cashiers make mistakes too so it may be a wash in terms of overall mistakes but there is less overhead with DIY checkout so the stores are making out nicely.

dabbler's avatar

The self-scan I used at Home Depot insists that you put your scanned items into the bag on a scale and checks the cumulative weight… and complained if the amount didn’t match expectations.
Everything there has a barcode though so no switching lettuce for a new rechargeable drill kit.

JLeslie's avatar

@dabbler But you can easily switch a cheap tomato for an expensive one, pennies here and there. But, I still think most people don’t.

Seaofclouds's avatar

@JLeslie It happened quite often in the beginning when we first got them. Once the machines were better at telling if the weight of the item placed in the bags matched the item number scanned, some of it slowed down. Overall though, we caught people trying to get away with something like that pretty regularly and who knows how many people we didn’t catch.

dabbler's avatar

@JLeslie yep I think HomeDepot doesn’t have the same vulnerability as a grocery store.
I’m amazed they let you tell the gadget the code for what you’re buying.
It’s like having a blind person making change.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@Cruiser You said, “It kind of sucks that you knowingly would game the system…” I didn’t! I’m saying that it would be easy to do.

Cruiser's avatar

Sorry @Dutchess_III My speed reading skills suck today! My apologies!

JLeslie's avatar

Most likely cameras are on the lanes along with the weight sensor.

The self checkout can be a pain in the ass and be much slower sometimes when checking out fruits and veggies, the cashier is usually much faster than me.

chyna's avatar

I didn’t know you could do this and had never thought about it. I try not to use the self check out as I feel it takes away jobs from real people.

JLeslie's avatar

This article is interesting. Talks about stats on average increase in shrinkage/theft when self checkout is installed, and other related information.

woodcutter's avatar

At Wallyworld they more than make up for it by all the sacks that somehow get lost in the bagging carrousels at check out and they return those items to stock. It all works out in the end.

chyna's avatar

@woodcutter Walmart does the same thing. Pisses me off to no end.

LuckyGuy's avatar

I stand in line right next to @chyna. I don’t use the self checkers. There are millions of capable people out there willing to work for a minimum wage who would be delighted to have that job. We pay for them one way or the other either through slightly higher prices or slightly higher taxes for their public assistance.

As a side note to the mention of the honor system. There are two main grocery stores in the area – a large chain and another family owned. The large chain is cheaper with wider selection. When there was serious power outage here a couple of years ago the chain store shut their doors. The local store stayed open and the manager handed flashlights to customers so they could venture into the darkness and find what they needed. Checkout was a box for cash or hand written IOU’s if you didn’t have the cash. We all did out own self tally and estimates. I’m sure there must have been some cheats. but that was made up in spades by the honest people who appreciated what he did and generously rounded up our bills .
We love this guy!

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@Seaofclouds See, I’m the exact opposite – I’ll walk out if there isn’t a self-checkout register, and I know several others who do the same. I won’t shop at Safeway, even though it’s closer to my house than all the other grocery stores, because they don’t have a self-checkout option. I’d imagine that for every person who walks out because there isn’t a person to check them out, there’s someone balancing it out by insisting on a self-checkout.

As for the honor system, I’ve seen a few that had more problems with shoplifting install cameras above the scanner so they knew if you weren’t punching in the right thing.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@MyNewtBoobs But I really don’t think they’d catch you doing something like punching in cheap Roma tomatoes in place of the more expensive vine-ripened tomatoes!

JLeslie's avatar

@Dutchess_III On camera they could. We used to catch sales people doing the wrong thing on the register on camera.

Aethelwine's avatar

I have returned home many times from a grocery shopping trip to find an item on my receipt that was scanned twice by a cashier, or some items were accidentally left behind. I need to travel a good distance to the grocery store, so I’m wasting gas making another round trip just to collect one or two items that were left behind.

I have a feeling it all evens out somehow.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@jonsblond True dat. Plus, most stores raise prices a bit to compensate for some shoplifting or human error.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@JLeslie But how could they even see through the plastic bags?

JLeslie's avatar

@Dutchess_III The camera is on the screen at checkout, it sees the code on the fruit and the code you punch in. No match you are stealing.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Amazing camera! For me to read the code through the plastic I have to flatten the bag against the veggie or fruit. Also, if you really wanted to get I-spy, you could peel all the codes off of the fruit as you’re wandering around the store, and pick your own code from the list of fruit veggies they supply!

dabbler's avatar

Gee whiz if the checkout cam can figure out what’s the number why do you have to punch it in?

@Dutchess_III Probably viable method, like the classic price tag switch. Is it accidental or is my impression correct that more expensive produce are more likely to have those prooduce labels (with a four or five digit number on it) that are scored so you can’t unpeel the whole thing it will tear. The cheapest thing will have a less expensive uncut produce label.

Dutchess_III's avatar

We’re talking tomatoes and tomatoes, @dabbler. Inexpensive things. Not meats and stuff.

dabbler's avatar

I dunno. An organic yellow pepper in perfect condition could fetch four dollars around here.
The standard one is two or three.

I don’t have time to do anything like that but it’s interesting to notice loopholes in the system.

Dutchess_III's avatar

LOL! You don’t have time to think about how the details of how to get away with dasterdly deeds, but you have time to cat around on Fluther! BTW…around here, a green pepper is a buck. Red or yellow is, like $4!

dabbler's avatar

Oh yes I do have time for thinking about those details, here I am indeed, but I wouldn’t bother to do anything like that.

JLeslie's avatar

The camera is not in the check out register, it is in the ceiling focused on the scanner. That is, if the store has one.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Sigh. @dabbler I wouldn’t do anything like that either.

@JLeslie…? Above you said, “The camera is on the screen at checkout, ” ? At any rate, you could get away with nickle and dimeing stuff to death, if one cared to do such a thing. No one sits and monitors those camera’s, unless they start noticing a LOT of money vs produce coming up short. Then they might go back and look. But gosh…how could they figure out which check-out station…manned or self serve…was causing huge losses of, say, meats? At any rate, they aren’t going to do anything about tomatoes and mushrooms.

JLeslie's avatar

@Dutchess_III True they probably won’t watch it unless they are alerted somehow. Meat scans by UPC so that would not be manually changed. Just produce is the risk. And, someone would have to be stealing a lot of the same thing for it to be caught I would say. If someone is keying in a tremendous amount of cheap tomatoes, then tremendous amounts will be automatically ordered by the system, and none of the expensive ones will be. Eventually the staff would call the buyer complaining about the stock, and they would clue in the stock count is off on the particular item. Then the cashier who watches the self scanner could watch for that type of food.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@JLeslie All very true. Good points!

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