Light Wave


The End of Self-Checkout? Five Below, Target Scale Back on Self‑Service

By Jake Beardslee · July 6, 2024

In a significant shift, several major retailers are scaling back or eliminating self-checkout options in their stores. This move comes after years of investment in automated checkout technology.

Dollar General has removed self-checkout from approximately 12,000 locations, Business Insider reported. The company began this process in the first quarter of this year. Five Below is also taking steps to remove self-checkout entirely from what it terms its "highest-risk" locations. Target has announced plans to limit or eliminate self-checkout options in some stores, while Amazon is removing its "Just Walk Out" cashierless checkout system from its grocery stores.  Jim.henderson / Wikimedia

These decisions mark a reversal from previous strategies that emphasized the benefits of fully self-service stores. As recently as 2022, Dollar General had praised self-checkout technology for its potential to "enhance the convenience proposition, while enabling our associates to dedicate even more time to serving customers."  Keith C from Palm Bay, FL, United States / Wikimedia

The primary driver behind this shift appears to be concerns over "shrink," an industry term encompassing inventory loss due to various factors, including theft and errors.  Blake Wisz / Unsplash

Some retailers have explicitly cited theft as a reason for their decision. Five Below CEO Joel Anderson stated in March that replacing self-checkout options with employees was the most significant change in their theft reduction efforts, FOX Business reported. Similarly, Dollar General CEO Todd Vasos indicated in May that the company aims to restrict self-checkout to low-theft locations.  Phillip Pessar / Wikimedia

However, the issue is not straightforward. Claire Tassin, a retail and e-commerce analyst at Morning Consult, told NBC News that shrink at self-checkouts can be both intentional and accidental. "I know I'm not the only one who has struggled with a self-checkout machine," she said, adding that some customers may be "pretending to scan something and just bagging it anyway."  Mike Mozart from Funny YouTube, USA / Wikimedia

Consumer sentiment towards self-checkout is mixed. A LendingTree survey last year found that while 41% of consumers frequently use self-checkout when available, 21% feel it's like performing "free labor," and 14% view it as taking jobs from potential cashiers.  Christiann Koepke / Unsplash

Tassin suggests that improving customer experience may also be a factor in the retailers' decisions. "People are always complaining about the machines' being difficult to use, or loud, or just challenging in some way," she observed.  Phillip Pessar / Wikimedia

The move away from self-checkout may have positive implications for employment. Both Five Below and Dollar General have indicated plans to reinvest in their workforce as part of these changes. Tassin interprets this as a sign that "it is more profitable for the retailer to pay employees to manage checkout" than to support potentially inaccurate self-checkout systems.  Tyler A. McNeil / Wikimedia

Despite these shifts, self-checkout is not likely to disappear entirely. The Food Industry Association reports that 44% of transactions at grocery stores occurred via self-checkout lanes last year, up from 29% in 2022.  Mds08011 / Wikimedia