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Secrets revealed: How Walmart employees monitor self-checkout and aisle theft

By Lee Cleveland - May 23, 2023

A Walmart Employee’s TikTok Goes Viral, Revealing How the Retailer Detects Self-Checkout Theft

In today’s era of self-checkout lanes in grocery stores, it can be frustrating to encounter a situation where this convenient option is unavailable. Walmart, known for its affordable prices and a vast number of cash register lanes, often faces the challenge of long lines and limited open registers. However, the introduction of self-checkout lanes has been a game-changer for many customers, including myself. Nevertheless, concerns about theft in self-checkout systems have always lingered.

Unveiling the truth

Have you ever wondered, “How the heck do they keep people from stealing in self-checkout?

It seems like it would be so easy.

Recently, a Walmart employee with the TikTok handle @thewalmartguy69 (a clever choice) shared a video that has since gone viral, shedding light on how the retail giant combats potential theft at their self-checkout lanes. The video showcases a fascinating device developed by Zebra Technologies, specifically designed to monitor customers and the items they scan.

The Zebra Technologies device

In the TikTok clip, the Walmart employee unveils the Zebra Technologies device, which discreetly observes the items customers scan during the self-checkout process. The device’s purpose is to identify any irregularities or potential theft by alerting the staff.

The video reveals how this scanner keeps a close eye on customers, ensuring they scan and pay for all the items in their bags. You can check out the TikTok post below to see the device in action.

“Walmart has a security room… It’s a bunch of computers,” states an employee in the attached video.

“It shows you every aisle and they have zoom cameras that are 360, meaning that can turn literally anywhere in the store. They can zoom in so far… they can literally read your text messages if they really wanted to.”

Mixed reactions

The TikTok video received a variety of responses from viewers. Some individuals were impressed by the technology’s capabilities and expressed a newfound caution while attempting to sneak unpaid items into their bags during future Walmart visits. Others, however, expressed skepticism and shared personal stories of accidentally leaving items unscanned or forgetting to swipe their card at the self-checkout. The video even sparked confusion among some users who questioned why Walmart employees still appeared suspicious of customers if the store could detect theft.

Employee attitudes

Interestingly, several Walmart employees joined the conversation and shared their perspectives. Some employees admitted they were not paid enough to actively intervene in theft situations and preferred to turn a blind eye. However, it’s crucial to remember that not all employees share this sentiment, as Walmart continuously works to mitigate losses from theft.

So, how does Walmart address suspiciousness at self-checkout?

This one is tricky. Don’t look for an employee to call you a thief straight away. It’s often more clandestine than that.

When an employee thinks they see something suspicious, they’ll pause your machine by hitting a button on theirs.

Consequently, most customers will assume their checkout machine froze due to a computer glitch because those machines are prone to snags to begin with.

That “glitch” forces the customer to ask for assistance. And when the Walmart-designated self-checkout person arrives, they simply brush it off as a computer error and hit a few buttons to “fix” the problem. In the meantime, that employee is observing the situation and probably comparing the items you’ve rung up on the monitor to the scanned items in your grocery bag or shopping cart.

And if the employee notices something shady during their observation, they’ll pretend the machine can’t be fixed and will escort you to a separate machine where a human employee rings you up, starting from scratch.

And, yes, that’s happened to me a few times (although I never tried to steal). They’re very friendly and make it seem like they’re doing you a favor.

“Sir, so sorry for keeping you waiting. I’ll ring you up really quickly over here.”

Word of caution: If it happens to you, don’t rush to assume they’re accusing you of stealing. After all, the machines are glitchy. For example, one machine ran out of cash while I was using it. Two employees were called and for 15 minutes they tried unsuccessfully to add cash. They subsequently put me on another self-checkout machine and stuck a sign that read “Out of cash” on the previous one. When I went there the following day, the sign was still there so I know the issue was legitimate.

The impact of theft on Walmart

Walmart has recently announced its decision to close a significant number of stores across multiple states and Washington, D.C. in 2023. Initially, the company had planned to shutter 15 stores, but this number has now expanded to 23. The closures are part of Walmart’s ongoing efforts to optimize its store portfolio and improve overall financial performance.

And, yes, revenue lost due to theft played a role in Walmart’s decision to close some of those stores.

In December, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon warned that an increase in theft would force the retailer to either raise prices or close stores if the problem persisted.

“Theft is an issue. It’s higher than what it has historically been,” he told CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”

Among the affected locations, four stores in Chicago were closed in April due to financial losses. Walmart cited these losses as the primary reason for the closures. Prior to this, in early March, the company made the decision to close its last remaining stores in Portland, Oregon. The closure of these stores was attributed to the fact that they did not meet the company’s financial expectations.

The ultimate balance

Walmart, like any business, strives to strike a balance between loss prevention and profitability. By employing a combination of human monitoring and innovative technologies, like those offered by Zebra Technologies, the company can address theft concerns more effectively without compromising its bottom line. This proactive approach aligns with their ongoing efforts to minimize losses resulting from theft incidents.

By leveraging innovative solutions and carefully weighing the financial implications, Walmart aims to strike a balance that ensures customer satisfaction while protecting its interests.