California Bill Would Put Limits on Grocery, Pharmacy Self-Checkout

Legislators aiming to help retailers curb theft and reduce shrink
Emily Crowe, Progressive Grocer
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California's Senate is looking to put certain requirements on self-checkout services at grocery stores and retail pharmacies.

California legislators are hoping to boost staffing and curb shoplifting at self-checkout lanes at major grocery stores and pharmacies throughout the state. The union-backed bill, SB 1446, would prohibit those establishments from offering a self-service checkout option to customers unless they meet specific requirements. 

Under the bill, there would need to be one employee for each two self-checkout stations, with that employee required to be relieved of all other duties. The bill would also require a grocery store or pharmacy that offers self-service checkout to include that option in a specified analysis of potential work hazards for purposes of their injury and illness prevention programs. 

[RELATED: The Story Behind Shrink]

Additionally, legislators are seeking to require grocers and pharmacy companies to complete a specified assessment before developing or implementing the sort of technology that affects essential job functions or eliminates jobs. The bill would require that study to include the salaries, benefits, jobs and work hours that would be eliminated by workplace technology like self-checkout.

Regarding the assessment, affected retail establishments would also be required to notify and solicit input from its employees at least 60 days before drafting the study. Food retailers would also have to provide the study to employees or their collective bargaining representatives at least 60 days before implementation.

Self-checkout remains a complicated subject among food retailers. According to research from Grabango, self-checkout machines are contributing to shrink in a major way, with losses totaling 3.5% of sales or more than 16 times more loss than traditional cashier lanes. Additionally, 15% of respondents in a recent survey conducted for online lending market LendingTree reported that they have purposely taken an item while supposedly scanning their items at self-checkout. 

In response, many grocers are implementing changes in an effort to stanch theft and reduce shrink. Dollar General Corp., Target and Schnuck Markets Inc. recently shared their plans for the future of the service, with Dollar General taking a three-pronged approach to the issue, including converting some or all self-checkout registers to associate-assisted checkout options in approximately 9,000 stores. 

Last fall, Target piloted the concept of Express Self-Checkout with a limit of 10 items or fewer at about 200 stores and found that self-checkout was twice as fast at these stores. As a result of this feedback, the retailer has rolled out Express Self-Checkout at most of its nearly 2,000 stores nationwide. 

For its part, Schnucks has restricted the number of items customers can purchase from self-checkout lanes to 10. While the change helps improve customer service, a store representative also said that Schnucks expects the change to lower shopping thefts.

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