Many grocery stores and superstores, including Walmart, are shifting to the ‘self-checkout’ system that allows customers to ring up their items themselves.
But just because there isn’t a Walmart employee scanning your items and taking your money doesn’t mean that you aren’t being watched.
Self-checkout kiosks are popular options in stores
Self-checkout kiosks have become popular options in stores like Walmart, Target, Home Depot, and even IKEA. Customers can skip the long checkout lines while businesses can staff fewer employees per shift, and offer contactless payment.
However, not everyone sees self-checkouts as a positive thing.
It’s not a perfect system
Some people have argued that the increased dependence on technology like self-checkout is putting people’s jobs at risk, slowly replacing people with computers.
Although the self-checkout kiosks require at least one staff member to monitor multiple independent transactions, it’s certainly not the same as having 6 cashiers on tills. It’s also not a foolproof system.
Big-box retailers take a massive hit in theft every year
Business Insider reports that big-box retailers like Walmart are facing a major challenge: loss prevention. According to the report, In 2019, theft and fraud cost retailers like Walmart approximately $62 billion.
That represents roughly 1.6% of total sales for the year disappearing to theft.
New tech means new ways to commit theft
Business Insider reports that with the rise of online shopping, credit card fraud, gift card scams, and other virtual means of theft are on the rise.
To make matters worse, some customers are now taking advantage of the self-checkout kiosks to make stealing a little less obvious.
Are self-checkouts making it easier for people to steal?
When self-checkouts became more common in stores, some people saw an opportunity to check themselves out at a discounted rate.
Instead of scanning all of their items, they only scan half or a few items and simply place the unscanned items in their shopping bag.
The “Banana Trick”
Since the customer is scanning and bagging their own items, it’s harder for a store employee to notice the trick.
In a busy store it can almost be impossible for an employee supervising the self-checkout area to catch a shoplifter. Some people are even doing something called the “banana trick” where they manually key in a cheap non-barcoded item’s code while placing an expensive item on the scale.
Others are attempting the “switcheroo”
Among the banana trick is the sticker swap tactic some use at self-checkout, where someone swaps an expensive item’s sticker with a cheaper one.
While these tactics may have risen to fame in the early days of self-checkout, retailers have quickly caught up and found ways to stop people from stealing at the kiosks.
Technology has been developed to help combat theft
Of course, whenever people find a way to use technology for criminal activity, the same technology can be improved to combat it.
Loss prevention efforts at self-checkouts have included installing security cameras in the kiosks, weighted scales in the bagging area, and scheduling staff to watch over the self-checkout process to deter theft.
Walmart employees are spilling trade secrets on social media
Still, people think that they can get away with not paying for everything at the self-checkout and they’re willing to risk it.
Now, both former and current Walmart employees are speaking out on social media to let people know they’re not as sneaky as they think when they steal from the self-checkout.
Viral videos are exposing some lesser-known tricks
Some Walmart employees have taken to TikTok to share the ways that they can tell when people are stealing using self-checkouts.
The videos have gone viral and racked up thousands of comments from people who are shocked to learn of the technology used to prevent theft and some who are hardly surprised.
One account shared how Walmart employees know when people are stealing
One TikTok user who went by the name of @thewalmartguy69 claimed to be an employee at Walmart. He uploaded a video that showed how employees can catch customers red-handed if they try to steal at checkout.
The video quickly went viral and racked up millions of views on the platform before it was shared across news media outlets and various other social media platforms.
The original account was deleted along with the video
It’s unclear whether Walmart took legal action against the video or terminated @thewalmartguy69’s employment, but the video’s viral status was short-lived.
It wasn’t long before the entire TikTok account had been deleted, along with the original clip. However, the damage had been done (so to speak) and once something exists on the internet it’s hard to get rid of.
People had saved the clip
Other users on TikTok used the app’s “stitch” feature to respond to the original viral clip and that content still exists for all to see, even though the original video is gone.
In the clip, captions appear over a device being held by someone in a familiar checkout area at Walmart. The caption says, “POV: we know when you’re stealing.”
POV means “point of view”
POV is a popularly used abbreviation on social media meaning “Point of View” used to help the viewer of a video determine whether they are supposed to be watching it from their own perspective, or somebody elses.
Often the POV is used to show the unique perspective of the person taking the video.
It’s easy for employees to tell when someone is stealing
According to this unidentified Walmart employee’s POV, it’s pretty easy to tell when people are stealing from self-checkout. Using a device with a digital screen that says “Register Alerts,” the employee shows the camera how they can spot people stealing.
The camera pans up from the device to show a person using the self-checkout kiosk.
The inventory tracker shows employees what is on a customer’s screen
The device shown in the video appears to be a portable inventory tracker that allows an employee to see what any customer is viewing on their self-checkout screen.
This includes what items the customer scanned, how much items cost, and what the total cost is at the register. Presumably, there’s even more information accessible through the options on the device.
The device is manufactured by Zebra Technologies
The handheld device appears to be from a company called Zebra Technologies. The company designs and manufactures handheld inventory devices to perform tasks like price checking, product location, and inventory management.
So while the technology doesn’t exactly notify an employee when something has been stolen, it does allow them to see what a customer has actually rung through when they’re cashing out.
The device could stop unfounded accusations
We all know some people are out to get others and accuse them of theft whether they’re stealing or not.
As user skittsmcgee points out on TikTok, the device could help make employees more accountable and less likely to throw out baseless accusations if they think a customer is stealing who isn’t.
They can tell if the item count doesn’t match up
If someone is cashing out one or two items instead of their entire basket of merchandise it’s pretty clear they’re up to no good.
Walmart has also been known to hire private security guards, but most people can agree it’s the security cameras powered by artificial intelligence that are the biggest deterrent.
The security cameras are powered by AI
A representative for Walmart confirmed to Business Insider that the security cameras positioned at self-checkout tills are powered by AI software. The cameras can identify when items have been put into a shipping bag without first being scanned by the barcode reader.
The effort is called Missed Scan Detection by Walmart and the software alerts an employee that a “Missed Scan” has occurred. The employee can receive the alert on a device like the one shown in the TikTok video.
Walmart employees have spoken out in the past
The now-deleted TikTok video isn’t the first time that a former Walmart employee has exposed some of the company’s theft-prevention tactics on social media.
In a series of clips called “Walmart Secrets from a former employee,” a young woman who goes by Athenia Maria, or @obeygoddess on TikTok, weighs in on the self-checkout debate. One video has more than 5 million views.
Another viral video explains what it means when the kiosk stops working
Responding to someone’s comment, Athenia Maria explained what it means when a notification that says “Something is wrong” pops up on a self-checkout kiosk.
The question specifically asked about why the camera plays back footage of the customer bagging when this happens, and why a store employee needs to help fix the situation.
Employees can remotely disable a self checkout kiosk
According to Athenia Maria’s video, when a Walmart employee gets a notification on their device that someone has missed bagging an item, or requested to remove a scanned item, the employee can immediately disable the kiosk.
This sends a notification to the customer’s screen that says “There was a problem. Please wait for assistance.”
Walmart employees “pause” transactions when they are suspicious of theft
The portable devices allow Walmart employees to ‘pause’ a transaction remotely if they suspect that a customer is stealing. The ‘Pause Transaction’ option freezes the entire checkout screen and notifies the customer that a store employee is on the way to help.
When the staff member arrives, the procedure is to remove all the bagged items and re-scan them.
There’s also secret shoppers
In another video, Athenia also mentions that Walmart employees people as “secret shoppers” as part of their asset protection department.
These people are employed to dress in normal clothing, have shopping carts, and walk around she says, “walk around from morning till nighttime when we closed”, pretending to be customers to identify shoplifters.
“They wait for you to get to the doors”
She goes on to say the secret shoppers dealt with many issues in the store, like confrontations between customers, but their primary focus was watching to see if someone had pocketed an item and not paid.
“They wait for you to get to the last point of entry,” she says. “The doors. That would be after the person who check your receipts, so literally as you’re walking out the doors they’ll stop you”.
It should never feel easy to steal
One opinion seems to be shared by hundreds of people: “It’s pretty easy to steal from Walmart.” There may be security measures in place but so far they don’t seem to be deterring the people who are going to steal.
It’s likely that Walmart and other stores like it will step up their security systems in the future by relying more on technology like the AI cameras.