Theft at self-service checkouts is a sad reality not only of Polish retail. But is it really an inescapable problem? And are we in danger of doing away with self-service counters and queues returning to traditional checkouts?

Theft at self-service checkouts

“Opportunity makes the thief”. – the saying goes. And self-service checkouts create a great many of these opportunities. The temptation to stick a code on a more expensive item from a cheaper one and scan it is too great for some customers. So much so that some of them – before being caught – were able to defraud the retailer of several thousand zlotys!

Some time ago, there was a high-profile case of one man who was proven to have committed 56 such crimes. His method was simple – he would put both cheap and expensive products in his basket, then scan the cheaper ones at the checkout and pack the more expensive ones. In the end, he got caught and now faces a sentence of up to eight years’ imprisonment.

Theft at self-service checkouts is often treated as a misdemeanor

Unfortunately, under Polish law, theft of goods worth less than PLN 500 is treated as a misdemeanour, and it will be even worse, because from 1 October 2023, this limit will be raised to PLN 800!

In a time of inflation, soaring prices, and empty wallets, this situation is bound to encourage even more dishonest customers to attempt theft.

Already, shops where around 60% of transactions go through self-service checkouts are experiencing losses more than 30% higher than in outlets with traditional checkouts!

Of course, not all of this is the result of shoppers’ dishonesty. After all, the customer is not obliged to know all the codes and trade names of the products – especially those that they themselves have to select from the checkout menu, such as bread or fruit.

It is not difficult to make a mistake here and therefore for a shop to experience loss. 

This is, of course, not only a Polish specificity. There is also a problem of dishonest customers in other countries. Across our western border, the Aldi chain switched off the self-service checkouts in one of its shops in Cologne shortly after they opened. There were so many thefts!

The Dutch branch of the Action chain has been forced to take similar steps and has also switched off self-service checkouts in some of its outlets.

So will we also have to say goodbye to this convenience soon?

Poles love self-service checkouts

Fortunately, for the time being, it does not look like Polish outlets are getting rid of the self-checkout. On the contrary! More and more chains are introducing this solution, and pioneers such as Lidl are modernising their self-service counters to make it even easier for their customers to checkout on their own. 

So – the future of self-service checkouts in Poland seems to be unthreatened. Of course, this form of shopping presents challenges, but after all, they are driving progress!

Challenges as a source of innovation

One of the problems faced by establishments deciding to introduce self-checkouts is the issue of impulse sales. A checkout area is a place where sales of more than 50% of products in certain categories (e.g., candy bars, chewing gum or sweets) are made. We have written about this on our blog: 

Meanwhile, self-service checkouts, by their very nature, put the customer into an ‘end of shopping’ mode, where their focus is on paying and leaving the shop as quickly as possible. 

As a producer of retail furniture, Perfecta is working to solve this problem so as to reconcile what on the surface seems like fire and water: the impulsiveness of shopping with the desire to leave the outlet quickly.

A second challenge faced by shops that are equipped with a self-service checkout line is the need for staff to manually validate sales of products in certain categories, such as alcohol. This slows down the turnover at the checkouts and can sometimes be a source of frustration for customers who have to wait for a member of staff to find the time to help them.

But here, too, Perfecta is working on a solution. One of them is the customer’s self-validation of sales via the shop’s loyalty app. This system has a good chance of improving service and saving shoppers’ nerves!

The third problem is theft, described above. But here, too, we are working on solutions to curb or make it significantly more difficult.

Of course, we will keep you updated on the progress of the work!

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