Walmart Employees and Customers Blame Self-Checkout for Theft

  • Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said stores could close if the rising tide of theft isn’t stemmed.
  • Customers and employees blame self-checkout, which Walmart has increasingly relied on, for theft.
  • A theft expert said automation “inherently means there’s going to be less eyes on a transaction.”

Walmart’s CEO has warned that the retailer may need to close down stores due to theft – but many of the company’s customers and employees blame one growing feature of the store for enabling shoplifting: self-checkout.

Walmart CEO and President Doug McMillon told CNBC earlier this month that theft “is higher than what it has historically been” and there will be consequences “if that is not corrected over time.” Since McMillon made those comments, more than 100 Walmart customers and former and current employees reached out to an Insider reporter imploring the retailer to rely less on self-checkout.

“They need to hire cashiers again and do away with so many self-checkout,” said Mindy Stanley, a Walmart customer from Ashland, Kentucky. “I’d say they are losing so much due to that.”

To be sure, Walmart still utilizes cashiers at stores across the nation. But the Bentonville, Arkansas-based retail giant, like so many other retailers, has increasingly relied on automation as a means of improving customer experience and reducing labor cost.

Walmart even put out a press release in June 2020 to extol the virtues of its “manned checkout experience,” where there is a round area for self-checkout registers and Walmart employees monitoring and assisting with the process.

Walmart declined to answer questions on its ratio of self-checkout kiosks to traditional checkout lanes, staffed by cashiers, across the country; what monitoring tools it uses to prevent theft; if self-checkout has posed additional risks of theft, and how much Walmart has lost in theft this year. Reuters reported in 2015 that the world’s largest retailer likely was losing about 1% of its US revenue — or roughly $3 billion every year — to stealing by customers and employees.

“While we don’t discuss details related to illegal activity in our stores, we’re continually exploring effective ways to protect merchandise, keep prices low and provide a safe environment for the millions of customers we serve weekly,” a Walmart spokesman told Insider in a statement.

The best way to protect against theft and make customers happy is to eliminate self checkouts, according to Polly Kearns, a Walmart shopper from Gulfport, Mississippi.

“Get rid of the self checkouts and watch the thefts decrease,” she said. “I don’t use them because it is taking a job away from someone. I’d much rather see a person checking me out than a cold-hearted machine.”

A Walmart employee at a store in Spokane, Washington, who asked to be anonymous for fear of retaliation, told Insider that her store went down to six staff-operated registers a few months back, with the rest of the machines being self-checkout.

“Theft is horrible at my store,” the employee said. “If corporate actually visited at the store level and spoke with actual employees that deal with the theft, they might see how to fix the problem. They are converting stores to more self checkouts with less employees. Self checkout is where most theft happens.”

Security experts concur that self-checkouts make it harder to deter theft. Matt Kelley, a loss-prevention expert at security solutions company LiveView Technologies, told Insider that it’s “definitely very valid” that self-checkout, which he said most big-box retailers have implemented in some form, has led to more thefts.

“For the most part, retailers have been thinking about self checkout through a financial-savings and customer-experience perspective,” said Kelley, who previously served as a senior manager of asset protection at Home Depot. “But inherently that means there’s going to be less eyes on a transaction. And there’s going to be more of an opportunity for the dishonest people to be dishonest.”

Got a tip about Walmart? Ben Tobin can be reached by email at btobin@insider.com or via the encrypted app Signal or text at (703) 498-9171.

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