Is Walmart getting rid of self-checkout? No, but it's 'testing' how, when to use DIY process – USA TODAY

Are the days numbered for self-checkout lanes at your favorite retailer?
The latest sign that could be the case: Some Walmart stores are limiting the use of self-checkout lanes, reserving some for Walmart+ members and drivers for its Spark delivery service, according to a report from news site Business Insider.
Spark drivers reported how self-checkout lanes, available exclusively for them and Walmart+ members, were showing up at the stores they work out of in recent days, Business Insider reported. At the same time, posts on social media also note how self-checkout is being limited at some Walmart stores.
Self-checkout has been a hot topic on Reddit for several months, with Walmart employees noting how some managers are opting to restrict self-checkout lanes, possibly for losses due to theft or incorrect input on food products.
Similarly, consumers who had gotten used to using self-checkout are now confused when they find most or all of the self-checkout lanes closed and lines waiting for clerks at registers racking up the sales.
“All the checkout lines were closed and I had to wait 40 minutes in a line,” one person posted on X, formerly Twitter.
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A shopper at Target posted a photo on X showing self-checkout lanes closed. “SMH why?” they asked.
These reports come as other retailers in recent months shifted their self-checkout strategies.
Target told USA TODAY in October it had begun experimenting with self-checkout lanes limited to 10 items or fewer at select locations “in order to reduce wait times and better understand guest preferences,” according to spokesperson Brian Harper-Tibaldo.
About the same time, Walmart removed self-checkout at select stores and some stores began posting clerks at self-checkout lanes to watch for possible checkout errors.
In the summer of 2023, Costco began asking staffers to crack down on checking membership cards in self-checkout lines. One reason: an increase in “shrink,” from theft or products selling for less than actual prices.
Self-checkout’s effect on profit isn’t new.
In the 2022 report “Global Study on Self-Checkout,” two-thirds (66%) of the 93 retailers in the survey (29 were from North America) said they thought self-checkout losses were becoming more of a problem in their businesses.
“There is no doubt retailers that have invested heavily in (self-checkout) SCO are now having to develop a range of ways in which to keep the associated losses under control,” the report’s author Adrian Beck, emeritus professor in the Department of Criminology at the University of Leicester in the U.K., told USA TODAY. “Typically, these are a combination of technologies, guardianship, design and changes to store processes.”
Not necessarily. Walmart has not issued a corporatewide directive on self-checkout but lets store managers experiment with what works at their location, Walmart spokesperson Joe Pennington told Business Insider.
“Our managers look for ways to innovate within their stores and pay close attention to customer feedback on where they can better meet their needs,” he said in a statement sent to USA TODAY. “Based on several factors including customer and associate feedback, shopping patterns, and business needs, some locations are temporarily testing different checkout staffing options.”
Any changes, he told Business Insider, are not meant to drive adoption of Walmart+ memberships ($98 annually), which give customers benefits including free deliveries and shipping, plus mobile scan and go shopping using your smartphone in stores.
USA TODAY has also contacted Target for comment about its self-checkout strategies.
After Walmart removed the self-checkout lanes at those select stores, Pennington told USA TODAY in October, “There are no current plans for self-checkout removals nationwide.”
But retailers are rethinking what part self-checkouts play in the retail process. They must balance using costly self-checkout lanes and staffing concerns, along with lost revenue from theft and incorrect sales.
“I personally don’t think self-checkout is going away, but we are seeing some big shifts from grocers in this department,” said Supermarket News senior editor Bill Wilson in a column this week.
Among other recent developments he cited: Schnucks has limited self-checkout to 10 items or less and Dollar General planned to cut back on self-checkout in 2024.
“Why? Shrink inventory has been a nasty pest over the past year, and it appears some of that theft is happening when shoppers ‘forget’ to scan items,” Wilson said. “Late last year, Kroger began leaning on AI to ensure that items in the cart make it through the scanner and into the bag.”
Another issue for retailers to balance: Some shoppers love self-checkout, but others do not.
More than 4 out of 10 consumers (43%) preferred self-checkout when buying groceries, according to a survey of 1,133 U.S. consumers by NCR Voyix, released in January.
But Generation Z and Millennial shoppers, aged 18-44, were more likely to prefer it, while only 40% of those ages 45-60 and 26% of those over 60 did.
“The reality is shoppers want more control over their checkout experience and self-checkout delivers that flexibility,” NCR Voyix CEO David Wilkinson said in a statement accompanying the report. “For retailers, self-checkout enhances operational efficiency in a time when many are struggling to retain staff and are combatting unprecedented levels of shrink.”
Contributing: Bailey Schulz.
Follow Mike Snider on X and Threads: @mikesnider & mikegsnider.
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