Gen Z loves self-checkout because it makes shoplifting easy



Gen Z’s habit of swiping extends past their phones. The young generation of shoppers also admit to swiping from retail stores, a habit that’s only become easier with the advent of self-checkout kiosks.

Young shoppers have a stronger affinity for self-checkout than older generations, a survey this week from Avery Dennison found. More than half of Gen Z and millennial respondents said that a self-checkout option would be a reason for them to switch retailers, compared 41%  of Gen X and 30% of Baby Boomer shoppers.

While Gen Z customers said that self checkout is faster, and they enjoy not having to wait in line or interact with others, there’s another reason why they may love self-service shopping: It’s easy to steal.

Almost one-third (31%) of Gen Z shoppers have admitted to shoplifting from self-checkout aisles compared to 15% of shoppers overall, according to a November LendingTree survey of 2,000 U.S. consumers. Almost half of Gen Z participants (46%) said they plan to lift the most expensive item in their cart, while 37% said they will loot the basics, such as food and water.

Gen Z’s spending power is increasing, making it crucial for retailers to attract young buyers, including so-called frictionless shopping opportunities that make paying easier. But self-checkout sleights of hand are having a real impact on retailers, with Walmart, Costco, and Wegmans are cutting down on kiosks, citing intentional shoplifting as reason for doing so. Satisfying a growing customer base while trying to protect from theft has left retailers unsure how to approach the future of automated checkout.

“While self-checkout is convenient, it certainly poses a risk for shoplifting,” LendingTree Chief Credit Analyst Matt Schulz said in a statement. “Ultimately, retailers need to decide whether the self-checkout terminals are worth the risk.”

Walmart, Costco, and Wegmans did not respond to Fortune’s request for comment.

Designed to increase convenience and ease labor costs, self-checkout kiosks have cost retailers in shrink, or inventory lost due to poor record-keeping or theft. For UK, U.S. and European retailers, the mobile scan-related shrinkage rate, 3.97%, was more than twice the overall shrinkage rate of 1.79%, according to a 2017 study in Security Journal.

In September, Walmart pulled self-checkout lanes from at least three New Mexico stores, opting to bring back cashiers to ring up groceries. Walmart employees and shoppers said elf checkout was responsible for a stealing surge.

Some sticky-fingered Gen Z shoppers believe that shoplifting is justified and that corporations have too large a stranglehold on the economy, leaving small businesses to suffer.

“We have so many companies that don’t care about their customers, only making money,” one shoplifting teen told Vice. “If we can punish the corporation, we feel we have done our best.”

While some companies are bringing back more humans in stores, others hope that doubling down on technology will deter shoplifters. Amazon’s Just Walk Out technology lets customers enter a store and scan a credit card, or use Amazon One or the Amazon app, and leave without formally checking out. Sensors and cameras detect when a shopper puts something in their cart. 

Downtown Spirits in Seattle installed Just Walk Out technology in August, with owner Marques Warren believing the technology, which prompts customers to input their credit card and personal information, would deter shoplifting.

“The old store was a traditional brick and mortar store — anyone could walk in, shoplifting occurred,” Warren told Eater

The technology is in over 120 third-party stores and dozens of Amazon stores, the company told Fortune. Still, it isn’t foolproof.

CNBC reporters accidentally stole a single-serving yogurt from an Amazon Go store in 2018, but Amazon seemed unconcerned, suggesting the technology is effective at detecting what customers are taking with them.

“It happens so rarely that we didn’t even bother building in a feature for customers to tell us it happened,” Vice President of Amazon Go Gianna Puerini told CNBC at the time. “I’ve been doing this a year and I have yet to get an error.”

Amazon told Fortune the Just Walk Out technology has been effective in curbing theft years after its introduction.

“Because Just Walk Out technology is highly accurate, it is typical for retailers to see the rate of shrink decrease after installing the technology,” Just Walk Out Vice President Jon Jenkins told Fortune in an email. “In a Just Walk Out technology-enabled store, a customer who takes a product off the shelf and sticks it in their pocket is charged for the item just as if they had placed it in their shopping cart.”

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