A New Bill in California Focused on Theft Will Force Some Stores To Eliminate Self-Checkout Stands

By: Stephanie Bontorin | Published: May 07, 2024

A controversial new law in California will restrict the use of self-checkout stands and force others to remove them altogether.

The bill comes at a time when self-checkout tills are increasingly used to place workers in more useful store positions.

Some Think Self-Checkouts Encourage Theft

California Senator Lola Smallwood-Cuevas (D – Los Angeles) has made some harsh statements about the future of self-checkout lanes in the state.

Three women and one mad wearing coats sit together in folding chairs in front of a small stage outdoors

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She told the press that the “machines cause about 16 times more loss than cashier checkout stands with a $10 billion annual loss.”

New Measure To Curb Stealing

In a new measure proposed by the senator, she introduced a way to prevent customers from stealing while checking out their groceries.

A woman with long black hair on the phone walks down a grocery store aisle with colorful signs

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She recommends setting a minimum staffing level of one employee for every two machines. This would eliminate costly theft at stores and, in the long term, save jobs.

Workers Alone Are More Susceptible to Theft and Violence

Sen. Smallwood-Cuevas stated that workers are more likely to be robbed or unable to stop petty theft at the tills when they are left alone.

A neon open sign in a window

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When workers are left alone to monitor self-checkouts, cash out customers, and stock shelves, they are less able to keep an eye on customers. Also, violent criminals can see them as an easy target.

Workers Report Being Attacked While Alone

The law addresses issues causing workers alone in stores to be attacked or robbed by customers.

A close up view of fully stocked shelves in a grocery store with black ceilings and black floors

After being left vulnerable, a woman working in a grocery store in Pinole recounted being attacked by three women who attempted to leave the store without paying for their items.

The Employee Explains Her Many Roles Cause Security Concerns

Latecia Costa, the employee who was attacked, says that at her store, she is responsible for selling lottery tickets, processing money orders and Moneygram, and managing the self-checkout area.

An employee wearing a green vest stands at a self-checkout till in a large grocery store

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All the tasks she is responsible for when alone take away from being able to monitor customers.


Companies Trying To Save Money Can End up Losing

Many grocery and convenience stores have enabled self-checkout machines to save money on employees. Instead of employing multiple people to work at cash registers and stock shelves, they can employ one for both jobs.

An aerial view of a large self-checkout area in a grocery store

Source: Wolfmann/Wikipedia Commons

However, Sen. Smallwood-Cuevas says that cutting costs in the short term will cost companies in the long term through poor customer service and rising theft.


Theft often causes stores to close

Many large retailers in California have reported needing to close stores due to rising theft.

A man putting a small item in the pocket of a camoflauge jacket inside of a store

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Retailers have a much easier time running online businesses than brick and mortar locations.


Statistics Agree With Adding More Employees to Self-Checkouts

The Prosecutors Alliance of California agrees that added staff presence effectively deter theft at tills.

A man standing at a green self-checkout machine

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Only 10% of people who steal get caught, so it’s better to deter thieves before stealing becomes an option. When employees are scarce around a store, it creates a better opportunity to steal.


Prosecutors Are Happy About the New Bill

Prosecutor Cristine Soto DeBerry says that for law enforcement, the best defence to stop thieves is to employ better protections inside the stores.

The side of a white police car on the streets of a big city

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Once a shoplifter leaves a store, police have difficulty tracking them down.


Proposed Law Will Mitigate Theft

The law will most likely have an overall positive effect on companies. Instead of adding shrinkage to their prices, they should be able to alleviate the cost of items.

A fully stocked grocery store aisle with food on two rows lining the aisle.

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Instead of losing money every month, stores will most likely see their sales rise.


Major Retailers Likely To Fight Legislation

Lawmakers anticipate that large retailers will fight the proposition.

Woman shopping for beer in a grocery store

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Although the plan will likely help their bottom line, the purpose of self-checkouts was to eliminate the need for as many employees as possible. Employers will not be happy that they will be forced to hire more cashiers or self-checkout supervisors.