- Walmart uses missed-scan detection at its self-checkout machines to help reduce theft.
- Employees say the alerts can lead to uncomfortable encounters with customers.
- Walmart said employees were trained to provide “a safe and enjoyable shopping experience.”
Walmart employees say working with anti-theft technology at self-checkouts has led to some tense confrontations with customers.
If the technology detects a problem — such as an unscanned item — a light above the machine illuminates, the machine pauses, and it sends a text notification to nearby employees. Walmart has trained these workers to approach customers and try to resolve the issue, though they’re prohibited from directly accusing anyone of theft, seven former and current Walmart employees told Insider.
The confrontations can sometimes get heated, with customers acting confused, defensive, or at times aggressive, employees said.
Mendy, a 10-year employee of a Walmart store in Arkansas, said customers had become so hostile at the registers that some had thrown merchandise at her.
“As with other retailers, theft is always a challenge, and we’re always looking for better ways to tackle this issue. This includes enhanced technology at our checkouts,” Joe Pennington, a Walmart spokesperson, said in a statement to Insider.
Retailers broadly are facing increasing theft and have responded by locking up merchandise, warning investors of major losses, and implementing new technology to help combat the issue.
Walmart declined to say how many stores used the technology at self-checkouts or what guidance employees received for missed-scan interactions. The spokesperson said associates were trained so that “our customers have a safe and enjoyable shopping experience.”
The seven former and current Walmart employees Insider interviewed had direct experience with the company’s anti-theft self-checkout technology. Some current employees were granted anonymity or identified by their first name only for fear of professional repercussions. Insider verified their identities and employment.
How Walmart detects theft at store registers
In 2019, Walmart introduced computer-vision technology at its registers to reduce inventory shrink, a term retailers use to describe merchandise losses from theft, fraud, error, and other causes.
The technology uses cameras to monitor registers for items that have not been scanned and notifies employees of the missed item.
Employees overseeing the self-checkout stations can monitor the registers from mobile phones and, in the case of issues, pause the machines to prevent customers from checking out.
Athenia Camacho, a former Walmart employee, detailed the process in a recent TikTok video.
“They can see everything you’re purchasing and everything you’re scanning, so I highly recommend not stealing from Walmart,” she said.
Walmart prohibits employees from accusing customers of stealing, even if theft is suspected, the seven people who spoke with Insider said.
Instead, workers must alert a store manager, who will notify store security, they said.
Camacho told Insider that at her store