Grocery Chain Removes Self-Checkout in Select California Stores Due to Increase in Theft

By: Lauren Fokas | Published: Jun 03, 2024

Over the past decade, and especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, self-checkout registers have become the most popular way to pay at stores around the country.

However, this year, several companies, including Walmart, Costco, and now Safeway, have decided to remove self-checkout kiosks from their stores. Like the others, Safeway blames the self-checkout registers for its immense uptick in theft and believes going back to the standard, employee-run registers is better for everyone.

The Self-Checkout Debate: Do Customers Like Them?

There has been an ongoing debate among consumers and companies about the benefits and disadvantages of self-checkout registers.

A self-checkout register as seen at a Walmart store

Source: Reddit

Some customers argue that self-checkouts are far more convenient and faster than the standard lines, whereas others find them frustrating as they often malfunction, leaving the shopper waiting for an employee to assist them anyway.

Self-Checkout Registers Could Save Companies Millions

Giant companies like Walmart, Target, Costco, and Safeway spend billions of dollars every year on labor costs. So, one of the biggest benefits of self-checkout registers was that it meant they needed fewer employees per shift, saving them millions of dollars over just one year.

A Walmart employee helps customers with a smile

Source: Linkedin

However, companies began to notice that they still needed employees ready to help customers at self-checkout stations, so it didn’t save them nearly as much money as they expected.

Self-Checkout Registers Cost Companies Money

In fact, these self-checkout registers started costing the companies money as many consumers began using them to steal.

A faceless man stealing by putting something in his jacket at the grocery store

Source: iStock

While the self-checkout registers are technically built to stop theft, they don’t work as well as they should. Technically, when a person puts an item in the bagging area without scanning it, employees are notified. However, if a shopper uses one of the now popular techniques, they can get away with stealing almost anything.

How Do Shoppers Steal From Self-Checkout Registers?

One common way shoppers steal from self-checkout is to pretend to scan an item and then put it right back in their cart. If an employee or security cameras were watching, it would look as though they added the item to their bill.

A woman weighing a large watermelon at a self-checkout counter

Source: iStock

Additionally, many shoppers steal items, specifically produce, that don’t have barcodes. For example, a person may weigh an expensive product, such as organic apples, but select regular bananas on the screen. In this way, they are paying pennies of what they actually owe without “stealing.”

A Study Shows Gen Z Are Happy to Steal From Self-Checkout

This may sound ridiculous to those who would never consider theft, but it’s actually quite common practice these days, especially among younger generations.

Four young Gen Z women take a selfie on the street while shopping

Source: Freepik

A LendingTree survey of 2,000 Gen Zers showed that nearly 50% usually steal the most expensive item in their cart, and almost 33% say they often steal from self-checkout counters.


Companies Lose Billions of Dollars in Retail Theft Every Year

To many, the idea of paying less for organic apples or stealing an item or two from big brand names like Walmart or Safeway may seem like a victimless crime. These corporations make billions in revenue every year, so what’s the harm?

A man goes over his finances while counting coins

Source: Freepik

But because so many people think this way, these companies are actually losing billions of dollars in theft every year. Walmart reportedly loses $3 billion to theft every year, and across the country, retailers lose a collective $112 billion every year.


Companies Are Struggling with Inflation, Too

When Americans speak about inflation, they almost always discuss how it affects the average consumer, but inflation absolutely affects corporations, too.

A depiction of inflation, showing several stacks of coins growing in size under a red upward arrow

Source: Freepik

Although it’s challenging to have sympathy for a company that brings in billions in annual revenue, it’s important to remember that the costs to run these businesses are increasing as well.


Walmart Plans to Remove Almost All Self-Checkout Registers

Companies like Walmart are spending more than ever before on labor, inventory, rent, and everything else that goes into a successful business. Therefore, they need (and want) to make as much money as possible.

A self-checkout register at a grocery store

Source: Getty Images

Instead of raising prices, Walmart plans to remove almost all its self-checkout registers. The company hopes to save several billion dollars by the end of 2024, as theft will automatically decrease.


Safeway Announced It Is Removing Self-Checkouts in the Bay Area First

Safeway is following Walmart’s lead and announced that it, too, will be removing self-checkout options at several stores. The company plans to start in the Bay Area of California where theft is the most rampant.

A photograph of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California

Source: Freepik

Safeway told the press, “Operational changes have been made at select stores throughout the Bay Area given the increasing amount of theft. Self-checkout kiosks have been removed at a few stores.”


Safeway Will Continue Removing Self-Checkout Counters Around the Country

It’s highly likely that Safeway will continue removing self-checkout counters at its 920 stores around the country over the course of the year. Though it has yet to make that announcement.

An “out of service” self-checkout register at a Safeway grocery store

Source: Reddit

In the meantime, customers should expect some self-checkout machines to be “out of service” and for longer lines at the standard, employee-run registers.


Companies Claim Returning to Employee-Run Checkout Lines Is Good for Everyone

There are certainly some who will be disappointed by the mass removal of self-checkout machines. Of course, those who use them to steal, but also shoppers who enjoy the convenience of processing their payment themselves.

The exterior of a Safeway grocery store

Source: Gado/Getty Images

But companies like Safeway and Walmart say this truly is a win-win decision. Customers will receive better customer service and corporations will be able to all but stop the increasingly popular practice of retail theft. A spokesperson for Safeway said that, in addition to curtailing theft, this decision will “ensure the well-being of our employees and foster a welcoming environment for our customers.”