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4 Action Steps to Prevent Shoplifting at Scan and Go

Find out how Mobile Self-Checkout can help minimize shoplifting

Mobile Self-Checkout: Current status & perspectives

Self-checkout (SCO), renders conventional checkout lines obsolete. It enables customers in retail stores to scan and check out their purchases themselves. Hence, retailers save space and reduce cashier cost. Self-checkout can take various forms. The most widespread SCO solution at the moment are self-checkout counters. These are machines with integrated scanners and payment terminals. In most cases, they also include scales or cameras. In 2019, SCO counters were used by almost 80% of U.S. customers, and 47% did so regularly (Statista).

However, a new SCO solution has gained ground in recent years: In mobile self-checkout, also called Scan & Go, customers use a retailer’s app on their smartphone to scan and pay for their goods. Every step of the shopping journey is carried out on the customer’s smartphone. Physical registers or barcode scanning hardware are no longer needed. As a result, retailers can drastically reduce hardware costs while gaining space to present additional products and thus increase their sales

Customers, on the other hand, benefit from a greater shopping convenience. Thanks to mobile self-checkout, they no longer have to queue in checkout lines, which speeds up their shopping journey considerably. Depending on the retailer app’s functionalities, customers can also take advantage of personalized offers, integrated loyalty programs, the display of product information and many other features. These are up to the retailer – but thanks to the capabilities of modern smartphones, they are virtually unlimited.

Retailer concerns

Things are moving in the self-checkout world. Yet some important questions are rarely addressed. Aside from the challenge of developing an engaging, user-friendly, and feature-rich app, retailers are concerned about one issue in particular: shoplifting. According to a study by ECR, stores where 55-60% of transactions are processed through stationary SCO face 31% more shrinkage than stores without SCO. With regard to mobile self-checkout, retailers are justified in asking the following questions:

  • What keeps shoplifters from stealing more products?
  • What can retailers do to minimize shoplifting?
  • Can’t customers just leave the store and not pay?

It’s likely impossible to prevent shoplifting altogether. Nonetheless, to answer these questions, it’s useful to keep in mind that people steal for different reasons. Some due to lack of money, others because of the thrill, and yet others think it won’t hurt companies with billions in sales anyway.

With SCO, the barrier to shoplifting is lowered. Not only do customers no longer have to pass a cashier, but all too often the hardware doesn’t even work. They may also feel cheated because they feel they have to work to do their shopping. A successful mobile self-checkout solution must set the barrier to shoplifting sufficiently high to keep the temptation low – without compromising customer convenience.

How can retailers discourage shoplifting?

The Scanbot SDK team has compiled four proven best practices that help retailers minimize shoplifting while providing customers with the best possible digital shopping experience. ECR suggests several key elements. In a slightly modified form, we will focus on the following four:

  1. Reliable customer identification
  2. Open communication & expectation management
  3. A credible spot check strategy
  4. Well-functioning software


They can be implemented through a mix of app functionalities and in-store workflows – seeking to address typical motives of shoplifters when it comes to self-checkout.

Reliable customer identification

Would potential shoplifters steal products if their personal details are stored in an app? The majority would probably think twice. With mobile self-checkout, customers must provide at least their name, email address, and payment information before their first purchase. The New York retail chain Fairway Market even demands a profile picture that must be confirmed by an employee (Grocery Dive).

Reliable identification seeks to minimize anonymity. As a result, people are less tempted to shoplift. Additionally, busted shoplifters can be effectively blocked from the app and the self-checkout option.

Open communication & expectation management

Clear in-app communication improves customer compliance with in-store policies. Doing so starts with informing customers about all app features and capabilities when they first use it. When they begin shopping, they can be regularly informed of their obligation to scan goods accurately and that spot checks may be conducted.

Furthermore, reminders such as “Please make sure to scan all products” or a pop-up plus check box with “Have you scanned all products?” appearing before checkout strengthen compliance. Open and honest communication appeals to customers and reduces the likelihood of shoplifting. The important part for retailers is to find a balanced tone.

Credible spot check strategy

A strategy for inspecting the goods is virtually unavoidable. Selected customers can be notified in the app to visit a staff member before starting the payment process. The employee then compares the scanned items with the bagged items.

Two considerations make this strategy more effective. For one, customers can be selected for checking by targeted algorithms. These algorithms can take a variety of factors into account, such as average scan time, number of canceled products, or the average price of scanned items. Such algorithms are customizable and can be continuously improved through machine learning. For another, staff should be trained accordingly. Both app and staff must clearly communicate that spot checks are not an accusation of theft, but a routine part of the shopping experience with mobile checkout.

Effective exit control is another core part of a checking strategy, ensuring that leaving customers have paid. A common method is a barrier that can only be passed with a barcode that customers receive after paying.

Well-functioning software

Let’s imagine a customer who repeatedly tries to scan a pack of chewing gum at an SCO counter. However, the barcode is too small and won’t scan properly. Frustrated, the customer pockets the pack. “This guy didn’t get up that morning and say, ‘I can’t wait to be a shoplifter today'” (Adrian Beck). In this case, the customer was initially honest, but felt entitled to steal as a result of defective hardware. Had the SCO counter worked properly, the customer would have paid for the item. In mobile self-checkout, software replaces hardware, but the same applies. What matters here is that the retailer app is intuitive to use and works properly.

The scanning function is a crucial part of the app. If the app’s built-in barcode scanner fails to scan small, wrinkled, or damaged barcodes, some customers will steal out of frustration. Retailers must therefore carefully evaluate this vital component.

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What conclusions can retailers draw based on these prevention strategies?

Shoplifting can never be completely prevented, neither with traditional checkouts nor with any form of SCO. Nevertheless, retailers can minimize these losses effectively by applying the best practices in mobile checkout outlined above. Either way, the cost savings in both hardware and personnel enabled by a mobile self-checkout implementation are enormous. Even after deducting app development costs and assuming slightly increased losses due to shoplifting, mobile self-checkout is the most attractive solution in purely economic terms.

On top of that, an app offers customers a digital shopping experience. Retailers can add compelling features to the app to quickly adapt to ever-evolving trends and technologies. This enables them to respond to the needs of customers in the best way possible.

Last but not least, a well-functioning and user-friendly app creates a WOW effect. Customers should want to use the app and the built-in functions with excitement. They should get the feeling that it is a privilege to be able to use the app – not a mere cost-cutting measure by the retailer.

The Scanbot Barcode Scanner SDK not only passes the aforementioned criteria for scanning reliability with flying colors – it is also quick and easy to implement, and offers a fully customizable user interface.