Do self service checkout systems turns us into thieves?

You’ve probably noticed that in the world we live in today, it seems like everyone is trying to do everything quicker, easier and more efficiently. People are busy, and like to spare time wherever possible. Since a few years, a new trend has emerged that is playing right into this thought, the self service trend. You see this trend a lot on airports, trainstations and in retail. For example, think about checking in your own plane ticket at a machine instead of checking in at a manned counter. In this article the focus will be on self service checkout in the retail sector, and what kind of effects it has on our behavior. The self service trend itself has been around long enough to call it a meso trend, but since self service checkout in the retail sector is quite new, it would still be labeled as a micro trend. Both trends emerged from the mega trend digitalisation and are still developing as we speak.

At first it might seem like self service checkout in retail is a trend full of advantages and posibilities. This is partly true, because the self service checkout systems can for example  reduce the length of checkout lines, which will result in happy costumers. The systems can also be placed in a relatively small area, which gives stores the chance to take care of more transactions with less space, and with the self service checkout counters the store will eventually save up on the costs of employees. But there is one big disadvantage, since the introduction of self service checkout the losses due to shoplifting have skyrocked. Leicester criminologists proved that the cost of stolen items more than doubled (The Telegraph, august 2016.)

Now you might ask yourself, how is this possible? What are the reasons so many people choose to steal with the help of the self service checkout systems? The report of the Leicester criminologists also shows that not just criminals take advantage of the new checkout systems, but also the people who are usually honest. Does this mean self service checkout systems brings up the criminal in us, simply because it makes stealing so easy?

A survey by George Charles, spokesperson for showed that people have several different motivations for stealing via self service checkout systems. (Canberratimes, 2014). A lot of people said they were indeed tempted to steal simply because they found out the systems were so easy to fool. But other people said they sometimes just genuinely forget to scan something or give up on trying to scan a product that won’t register. And although that all still sounds kind of innocent, there were also people who admitted they thought they were less likely to be caught without human interaction or felt justified to stealing because a failing system has lead to frustrations.

Retailers are now becoming aware of the size of the problem and are thinking of ways to prevent people from taking advantage. Many supermarkets let their employees monitor the self service checkout counters or carry out random receipt checks to increase the risk of getting caught. Technology is being developed to tag items so that they set off alarms if they have not been scanned, but even with these precautions it’s still difficult to prove if a person actually intended to steal a product or forgot to scan it.

So in my opinion, the self service checkout trend in retail is growing, but won’t grow out to be a meso trend unless the risks of shoplifting can be reduced. According to Self Service World, 60,000 self service checkout systems will be shipped over the whole world in 2018. Although the new systems have already replaced the original checkout counters in some stores, I don’t think that the original checkout counters will disappear completely. Because for the smaller stores, interaction between their employees and customers is an important part of their customer service, and customer service is something I think we’ll always value.


Monique Wols


1ce0fe9a-3931-45e0-b9a7-5eab65582ac1Reference list:

Beck, A. and Hopkins, M. (2015). Development in retail mobile scanning technologies, Understanding the potential impact on shrinkage & Loss prevention. Retrieved 13-9-16, from

Carter, C. (2014). Self-scan fail: supermarkets lose billions as thieving customers help themselves. Retrieved 13-9-16, from

Knapton, S. (2016). Self-service checkouts turn honest shoppers into thieves, warn criminologists. Retrieved 13-9-16, from

Mann, N. (2014). The pros and cons of using self-checkouts. Retrieved 13-9-16, from

Ponten, H. (2015). Lecture 2: Trends and Brands [PDF document]. Retrieved 13-9-16,



2 thoughts on “Do self service checkout systems turns us into thieves?

  1. Well I think you have a good point, the self-service have a lot of benefits. For example shops need less employees. This cost them less money, but at the other side normal honest people, take faster something with them without to pay for it.

    At the other side I never steal something because it is a self-scan.

    The supermarket companies have samples to stop shoplifts. Jumbo and Albert Heijn two Dutch supermarket companies are satisfied about the self-service. Nevertheless they have at the self-service desk a cashier, but they said that they have this cashier for the personal contact with the customer.

    Stefan Bogaerts, teacher of the forensics psychology at the de University of Tilburg thinks that the figures are higher about shoplifting than the companies claim. He thinks that they’re much people, give an excuse when they caught at the self-service desk. (NRC, 2016)

    The rules of Albert Heijn say: that if you get some stuff without to pay for it, it’s shoplifting. But there of course also honest people who forget something to scan. I think that this is per case different. I think a lot of people forget something in the supermarket to scan. This are not always people who deliberately something take away of the supermarket.

    Security, Jurist question: is a missing self scan at the Albert Heijn shoplifting? Retrieved 19 September 2016 from

    NRC,2016. Stimulate self-service more shoplifting? Retrieved 19 September 2016 from

    Jacky Tegelaar


  2. I remember most of the AH to Go’s where getting the self service checkout. The only thing I had to do was get the product in the shop, walk to a desk where i could scan them and pay. The first thing I thought was, there are going to be a lot of people steeling here. It indeed seems so easy.

    As I was doing some research about this topic I found out there are also a lot of problems that come along. There is this guy that was arrested for theft, but he didn’t do it on purpose. So he was using the self service checkout and he forgot to scan his beer crate. After he paid he got a check and because he forgot to scan the beer they called the police. (Marc, 2014) This would not have happened if there was no self service checkout, so these service are not always an improvement. It’s human to make mistakes right? The guy from the forum is now worried because he might get a criminal record and this could cost him his job. So do self service checkout systems turn us into thieves? I think something it definitely does.

    Thomas de Gilder

    Marc. (2014, April 1). Diefstal zelfscan. Retrieved september 21, 2016, from Kassa:


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