Self-checkout and receipt checks

idleprocess

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Self-checkout has been a thing in retail for something like 25 years.

I remember a local grocery store installing a SCOT-labelled terminal in the late 90s (can't track down the make/model) that was remarkably high-tech for the time with machine vision to track movement of items from cart to scanner to bagging area in addition to irregular movements that might constitute shrinkage. The workflow was glacial by modern standards with the user having to wait for the system to seemingly step through events and exceptions that triggered lockdowns were all too common, but if you weren't buying much and the express lanes were queuing up it was a convenient option; a fringe benefit was it also felt like we were on our way to the future than a later IBM commercial predicted (and is now sort of here).

But in recent years - seemingly ramping up with the pandemic - self-checkout has transitioned from an option to the option at megalomarts across the country as there are often no cashiers available outside of customer service. The most apparent cause is the rise of pickup orders - staff that would have once been checking out in-store customers are now fulfilling orders for internet customers.

So now in-store customers are being funneled to self-checkout as the only real means of making that purchase. And while modern self-serve POS terminals are a world away from the SCOT terminal of decades past they've still got deficiencies that make the self-checkout experience unpleasant:
  • At a fundamental level the physical layout is usually quite bad
    • Most stands I've seen are planar - infeed, scanner, outfeed are on the same plane - making handling difficult
    • The bagging arrangement is inexplicably worse than actual cashier stands
    • Retailers are packing more self-service checkstands per square foot than manned checkstands
    • Once you've scanned and bagged everything you have to then reload the cart
  • The pace is agonizingly slow
    • Scanners are sometimes artificially throttled
    • Item lookup is absolutely agonizingly slow
    • Some stations will go into lockdown should you dare not to place scanned items into the (strain gauge-weighed) bagging area
  • The UI/workflow is trash
    • Touchscreen hardware is almost always garbage, requiring more pressure than is reasonable
    • The UI is bafflingly slow
    • Exceptions requiring employee intervention are all too frequent
      • Scan one thing too many? Employee intervention required.
      • Lookup failed because of crummy UI? Employee intervention required.
      • Violated some black box rule because of machine vision, too many scans that didn't make, trying and failing to do something obvious with the UI, got unlucky and the system decided it was N events and the employee needed to be handed a task? Employee intervention required.
I've generally made my peace with this new reality - any place that does grocery has generally removed the throttling and strain gauge checks.

But the growing trend of receipt checks is bothersome. I've spent considerably longer going through self-checkout than an employee checkout. All under the watchful eye of the employees minding clusters of self-checkout lanes and arrays of camera per checkstand no doubt capable of surprisingly capable machine vision. The transaction completed and ownership was exchanged; the funds are the merchants, the goods are mine. And then someone wants to stop me to ensure nothing is in arrears? This isn't a membership place like Costco or Sam's where the receipt check is part of the overarching membership agreement. I am simply not always feeling sufficiently charitable to indulge corporate paranoia.

I'm well aware of shopkeeper's privilege and the Texas statute on the matter is refreshingly brief. It's a tough argument to make that refusal to cooperate with a post-transaction receipt check constitutes reasonable suspicion of theft. And retailers walk a very fine line attempting to detain someone - even for the investigatory purposes within the statute - that doesn't wish to cooperate. Sure they can file a criminal complaint, threaten or initiate a civil suit, place your likeness on a wall of shame, issue a trespass notice, trash your name on social media ... all of which will likely prove futile and/or troublesome.

And yes I'm well aware of the escalating shoplifting problem. Making the self-checkout experience less sh_tty (i.e. addressing the pain points I enumerated above) would go a long ways towards reducing shrinkage (from self-checkout; suspect that slipping merch under articles of clothing or walking a shopping cart out the exit is the bulk if it).

Longer-term, eliminating the self-checkout altogether would broadly improve the customer experience altogether. The IBM vision I linked above is probably impractical - individual RFID tags on every item in the store is likely impractical at best. The Amazon Go process is likely too expensive and ultimately too rigid ... for now. I gather many a European grocer has perfected the process with a handheld scanner that you scan merch with as you shop; when done walk to the front of the store, pay, and then a cursory receipt check (I'd much prefer this approach over the preferred intrusive phone app approach that American retailers are leaning on).
 

IMA SOL MAN

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Matter of time before we have to stock the shelves also.
Stores will get away with whatever customers let them get away with. Not exactly the same, but look at the Bud Light boycott. :crackup:Bud Light customers kicked-back, and Budweiser got the message.

I avoid self-checkout as much as possible--I refuse to do a store employee's job for nothing. I try to go to a clerk checkout, because there is no financial incentive not to, and I want to keep PEOPLE employed, not technology, which replaces employees. Of course, if it meant keeping the business viable, I would self-checkout, as losing the store would hurt my community. But if stores want me to do the work of a clerk and self-check, they need to give me some kind of compensation for it--a discount or credit of some kind. Same thing with bags--if they want me to provide my own, then they need to compensate me for it. Jeez, you hardly get offered a carryout anymore--it used to be normal back in the '60's and '70's when I was a supermarket bagger.
 

SYZYGY

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i enjoyed your post. thanks. good technical and UX critique of the system.

fwiw, i usually just walk right past receipt checkers everywhere except costco. i only comply at costco because i could, in theory, not be allowed to shop there anymore as it requires a membership, and i technically agreed to those terms.

disregarding non-costco receipt checkers gives mixed results, but it's never been a real problem for me. sometimes they just shrug, sometimes they call after you a few times, but i've never actually been forced to stop walking. i suggest you do the same if you want to spice up your day and feel better about the whole thing. i know it makes me feel better. lol

i often don't even grab the receipt from the machine. i have only wanted to return groceries like a couple of times in my entire life, so i'm comfortable with forfeiting that option. it's just more junk for me to deal with. with normal checkout lines, i have always just said "no thanks" when they try to hand it to me. i also think thermal printer paper is gross and don't even like touching it.

note, however, that i am not in texas.
 
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SYZYGY

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Intrusive - Having to provide one's identification before access is granted.



if you're a credit card user, is that really more intrusive though? assuming you are one, i think the biometric data collection is the really novel, intrusive part, but that is happening all over retail now regardless of how you pay.
 

SYZYGY

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any place that does grocery has generally removed the ... strain gauge checks.

the "please return item to bagging area" error is a major annoyance to me.
i often buy lots of groceries. i cook for lots of people, lol. my groceries don't easily fit on the bagging platform, and i go out of my way to make it fit because i don't want to deal with a delay.

are you saying that, in your experience, most grocery store self checkouts will let me move scanned/bagged items to my cart as needed without error? if so, i will start experimenting with that. because forcing everything to fit on the platform sucks. to be fair, i have not tried that recently. i just encountered that issue enough early on that i became trained to force it all onto the platform.
 
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No more intrusive than providing a customer loyalty card at checkout.
if you're a credit card user, is that really more intrusive though? assuming you are one,

The difference being two of those choices are voluntary, while the other is mandatory.

i think the biometric data collection is the really novel, intrusive part, but that is happening all over retail now regardless of how you pay.

Agreed. There should be no expectation of privacy while being in public.
 

bubbatime

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I'm a former cop and before that a former loss prevention store security guard, that arrested shoplifters.

My comments are based on Florida (US) law.

You only have to show a receipt at membership clubs. Its part of the membership agreement that you agree to to be a member.

If I pay for items at a self checkout, those items now belong to me. I can do whatever I want with those items. They are mine. I do NOT have to prove ownership to anyone. I do NOT have to provide a receipt at the door. You can walk right past a reciept checker at the door with a "no thanks, not interested" and they cant stop you, detain you, etc.

They CAN detain you if they have probable cause that you have shoplifted. A receipt check does not meet the criteria for probable cause.

I'm not interested in waiting 5 minutes while someone receipt checks 20 people at the door. I walk right by.
 

IMA SOL MAN

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The difference being two of those choices are voluntary, while the other is mandatory.



Agreed. There should be no expectation of privacy while being in public.
The store is setup to only work that way--you setup the account before you enter. It is like having to setup an account to shop at amazon, or post on cpf. By logging in to cpf or amazon, you are providing ID--you are proving who you are before you are allowed to do certain things, like make purchases in the case of amazon.

The USD is planned to be replaced, eventually we won't be allowed to use cash, all transactions will be electronic and trackable/traceable/identifiable by the gubermint. Big Brutha wants to control you conception to grave.
 

SYZYGY

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Having to identify yourself upon entry is intrusive, but that's just a distraction. Pervasive analytics and biometrics are the real problem because they're hard to avoid even if you pay cash and happen even at normal stores.
 
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Lark Hunter

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Yeah, I don't care for the self checkout thing at all. My first experience with one was in my mid 20's and worked overnight shift waiting tables. I would usually do my grocery shopping when I got off in the morning, and would always use tip money to pay for stuff. This meant lots of $5 and $1 bills; that was back in the days when cash acceptors spat back almost anything other than a freshly minted bill, and it was right annoying. The same chain (under a different name in a different state) now uses a setup that makes you weigh everything... so if I've got five packages of identical powdered gravy mix, I have to slowly scan each individual packet, then deliberately drop each one in the bagging area since the scanner locks you out after each item scans and waits for it to show up in the bag. And it's deliberately slowed down... even the Bitchin' Betty voice sounds like it's doing the Thorazine shuffle. It's infuriating, so I try not to shop during the hours that there are no human checkers working.

The third place I shop that uses those things doesn't use the scale for every item, and you're able to move at a pretty decent clip. I can tolerate these, though most of them force you to pay with a card. As far as the receipt looker-atter by the door goes, I just dangle my receipt out and briskly walk by. Being that the stores usually give you an option to not get a printed receipt with your transaction, what exactly are these people looking for?
 

orbital

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I buy less stuff at the grocery store now because of self checkout.

Receipt checks would only bother me if I belonged to a warehouse club and there was the equivalent to a shipping container of items needed to be checked in front of me,, I have marginal patience.

e: wording
 
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idleprocess

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Matter of time before we have to stock the shelves also.
At that point I'll be doing pickup orders ... and odds are there will be 'dark' locations where there is no storefront for such by then.

Intrusive - Having to provide one's identification before access is granted.
An invariable feature of the 'employee-less' store model that Amazon is credited with creating.

Also worth noting that retail is performing all kinds of surveillance on its customers.

Know a guy that was experimenting with a bluetooth tracking system that could determine where in an aisle - and even what side - any given bluetooth radio was on (phone, headset). This only required that the device's bluetooth transceiver was active. If you had their app installed making affirmative ID was stupid easy; if you didn't they could pretty tightly correlate it with a transaction at a POS.

Suspect that retailers are also experimenting with cell frequency receivers to do passive location triangulation. Cell carriers may well sell information to 'partners' so they could pay a little money every month to figure out what unique IDs >> phone numbers >> subscribers are in their store. Or they agree to host a femtocell to boost reception in their building and get some of that data as consideration for their troubles.

ANPRs are not just for law enforcement; there are increasingly-capable plugins for security camera systems that can provide this information and it's not difficult to correlate that info to vehicle registration records.

And obviously as noted elsewhere, it's peanuts to get info from CC companies about transactions.

fyi, this is possible.
no need to use the useless "shorts" view with no playback controls.
Thanks for that heads-up! I also despise shorts/reels/etc for their contemptuous lack of controls.

I avoid self-checkout as much as possible--I refuse to do a store employee's job for nothing. I try to go to a clerk checkout, because there is no financial incentive not to, and I want to keep PEOPLE employed, not technology, which replaces employees.
Technology has been replacing labor since we started making tools; the industrial and information ages merely quickened the pace.

Headcount at the local megalomart looks about the same - cashiers simply got shifted to other roles like pulling orders for pickup.

However I certainly appreciate the foisting of additional work on the consumer, as per the starting post.

i enjoyed your post. thanks. good technical and UX critique of the system.
Thanks. Been thinking about it for some time and decided to write it down.

fwiw, i usually just walk right past receipt checkers everywhere except costco. i only comply at costco because i could, in theory, not be allowed to shop there anymore as it requires a membership, and i technically agreed to those terms.
Fry's electronics was the king of the receipt check (whose raison d'être was at least as much about preventing employees from stiffing the company as it was customer sticky fingers) and I'd breeze past them regularly secure in the knowledge I'd be able to return the item in the future - highlighted streak on the receipt or no.

Of course they're not around any more, but that seems to be related more to lack of senior management accountability than shoplifting.

are you saying that, in your experience, most grocery store self checkouts will let me move scanned/bagged items to my cart as needed without error?
There's enough volume in grocery - much of it bulky - that nearly all establishments I frequent have ended the practice.

A receipt check does not meet the criteria for probable cause.
My concern is that retailers are pushing this receipt check nonsense in order to push a narrative that the step is routine and that voidance of it is suspicious.

The USD is planned to be replaced, eventually we won't be allowed to use cash, all transactions will be electronic and trackable/traceable/identifiable by the gubermint. Big Brutha wants to control you conception to grave.
The Underground exists for contentious political topics.

Pervasive analytics and biometrics are the real problem because they're hard to avoid even if you pay cash and happen even at normal stores.
Yup. The surveillance economy isn't just social media. Go to the effort to automate the collection of all that data and there's the persistent temptation to do something with it beyond it stated purpose.

The receipt checks would only bother me if I belonged to a warehouse club and there was the equivalent to a shipping container of items needed to be checked in front of me,, I have marginal patience.
A fact of life at Costco and Sams unfortunately. Item count is the main KPI they seem to be looking for although I suspect they're also doing an intuitive scan of the cart vs the transaction total looking for a gross mismatch.
 
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