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Walmart Workers and Shoppers Blame Self-Checkout For Surge in Thefts

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An uptick in thefts at Walmart could lead to higher prices and store closures if the issue isn’t resolved, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” earlier this month.


“Theft is an issue. It’s higher than what it has historically been,” McMillon said.


McMillon added that “prices will be higher and/or stores will close” if prosecutors continue with their lax approach to shoplifting crimes.


Employees and shoppers criticized McMillon’s comments, attributing Walmart's rise in thefts to its reliance on self-checkout and the retailer's understaffed stores.


"They need to hire cashiers again and do away with so many self-checkout," Mindy Stanley, a Walmart shopper from Ashland, Kentucky, told Insider. "I'd say they are losing so much due to that." According to an Insider report, more than 100 shoppers and employees reached out to the outlet to say that Walmart's self-checkout is an issue.


When Cheapism reached out to Walmart to ask for details about self-checkout thefts, a spokesperson declined to provide specifics.


"Information related to self-checkouts inside our stores isn’t something we discuss publicly. Also, while we don’t discuss details related to illegal activity in our stores, we’re continually exploring effective ways to protect merchandise, keep prices low and provide a safe environment for the millions of customers we serve weekly," he told Cheapism in an email.

According to a 2016 study of retailers in the United States and Europe, self-checkout and smartphone apps lead to a loss rate of around 4%, which is more than twice as high as traditional checkout lanes.


“Retailers could find themselves accused of making theft so easy that some customers who would normally — and happily — pay are tempted to commit crime, especially when they feel ‘justified’ in doing it,” the researchers said.


In September, Wegmans discontinued its self-checkout app because of losses, though the store didn't disclose whether they were from thefts or customers who forgot to pay.


Walmart temporarily suspended a similar cashier-less Scan & Go checkout feature in 2018, citing a lack of customer participation. However, a former Walmart executive, Joel Larson, told Insider that theft also played a role in the retailer's decision.



Superfans and workers also blamed Walmart's current rise in thefts on understaffing, with many directly criticizing McMillon's comments.


“Doug should realize Walmart is at its breaking point and that there is nothing they can do to increase their profits,” a Redditor wrote. “They can either hire more or continue having unguarded stores that thieves can take advantage of.”


In the interview, McMillon said that Walmart has put in “safety measures, security measures” to mitigate the thefts.


“I think local law enforcement being staffed and being a good partner is part of that equation, and that’s normally how we approach it,” he added.

In 2015, former Walmart executive Greg Foran said that the retail giant loses 1 percent of its sales, or $3 billion, every year due to thefts and “unknown shrinkage.” “Shrink” is the industry term for inventory losses from clerical errors, theft, and fraud.


According to the National Retail Federation’s 2022 Security Survey, retail shrink resulted in $94.5 billion in losses in 2021, up from $90.8 billion in 2020. Most shrinkage stems from external theft, the survey says, with organized retail crime seeing a 26.5% increase in 2021.


“The kind of theft that’s mostly happening isn’t run-of-the-mill shoplifting. It’s organized crime,” Mark Mathews at the National Retail Federation told Forbes in November.


In response to Cheapism's earlier request for comment, a Walmart spokesperson clarified that McMillon "was speaking about retail in general and not specifically about Walmart."


Gallery: These Are Stores' Most-Stolen Items


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