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A hand in disposable latex glove scanning an orange at a grocery store self-checkout station. People wearing gloves to protect themselves from covid-19 pandemic.
A hand in disposable latex glove scanning an orange at a grocery store self-checkout station. People wearing gloves to protect themselves from covid-19 pandemic.

Grocery Giant Sours on Self-Checkouts; Too Much Loss…

Wegmans checked out (for the present) when it couldn’t stem the losses — which they suffered for various reasons perhaps, not just thefts
Black male person in warm denim jacket uses smartphone to pay for purchase at self-checkout point in supermarket close view

Recently, we wrote about unsubstantiated accusations of shoplifting at retail self-checkouts — sometimes accompanied by attempted shakedowns. But bigger, more complex issues loom in the background: Self-checkout probably does make theft (along with false accusations of theft) — and various other reasons that unpaid-for items find their way into shopping bags — much easier.

So one large retailer, Wegmans, has decided to just forget it for now:

“SCAN users have told us they love the app and convenience it offers,” a Wegmans spokesperson told FOX Business in a statement. “Unfortunately, the losses we are experiencing prevent us from continuing to make it available in its current state.”

The grocery chain said the app would remain shut off until it can make improvements that meet the needs of its customers and business. Frequent SCAN customers were given a $20 off coupon due to the discontinuation.

Lucas Manfredi, “Wegmans discontinues popular self-checkout app, cites losses” at Fox Business (September 19, 2022)

Christmas has come early for the scan lovers — and for retail tech vendors!

In the background is an interesting psychological development: Where retail losses are caused by shoplifting (as opposed to customer incompetence at checking out groceries), criminologist Emmeline Taylor suggests that some “believe their actions are justified because they are forced to do the work of a checkout attendant, or that they’ve had to put up with problems in the checkout process and the miss-scanning of items is simply a mistake or accident.(GaP Solutions)

It’s worth listening at this point. Self-checkout enables the vendor to place the responsibility for checking out and bagging groceries — which used to be that of the clerk — on the customer.

There’s a name for that: “shadow work.” And a book has been written about it:

Shadow work includes all the unpaid tasks we do on behalf of businesses and organizations. It has slipped into our routines stealthily; most of us do not realize how much of it we are already doing, even as we pump our own gas, scan and bag our own groceries, execute our own stock trades, and build our own unassembled furniture. But its presence is unmistakable, and its effects far-reaching. – Shadow Work: The Unpaid, Unseen Jobs That Fill Your Day (Counterpoint, 2015)

New technology makes shadow work much easier. But big tech companies do not necessarily pass the resulting savings on to the customers. It’s a similar problem to what Brave browser founder Brendan Eich and internet pioneer David Gelernter have noted about search engine technology: The owners of the engines reap vast profit from the things that we tell them for free.

In any event, getting the customer to check out the groceries is proving more complex than hoped. On the bright side, getting the customers to stock the shelves would doubtless be worse…


You may also wish to read: Could the self-checkout ruin your reputation? As Big Retail’s war on shoplifting goes digital, honest customers risk getting nabbed for goofs — and then facing a shakedown. Court testimony revealed that Walmart made hundreds of millions over a two-year period by threatening to sue accused shoplifters.


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Grocery Giant Sours on Self-Checkouts; Too Much Loss…