Feature: RFID self-checkout – game changer in reducing retail theft

Aleksander Martyshko, senior mobile software architect at Teamwork Commerce talks about RFID self-checkout


The retail panorama is fiercely competitive. Operating within a realm of narrow profit margins, retailers are working tirelessly to live up to highly demanding consumer needs in order to thrive in a constantly evolving sector. However, despite continued efforts from retailers to attract and retain customers, retail shrink has become a significant, ongoing issue that only seems to exacerbate difficulties for retailers, hindering their sales, growth and profitability.

Retail shrink refers to the loss of inventory from a range of factors, including employee theft, shoplifting, staff errors, damage or supplier fraud. One factor that is rapidly increasing lies in shoplifting and in-store theft. In fact, according to new research from the British Retail Consortium (BRC), from pre-covid to 2022, retail theft increased by 26% across ten of the largest cities in the UK.

In fact, retail shrink could cost Target approximately £390 million in profits. Even if retailers provide improved customer experiences, earn consumer loyalty, and retain shoppers; their efforts can go in vain if their underlying shrink problem continues to cripple them.

To curb shoplifting, UK supermarkets Sainsbury’s and Morrisons recently introduced self-checkout barriers. Other leading retailers across the globe such as Zara, Target, and Walmart have also started to address the challenge by leveraging advanced security solutions.

Clearly, the rise in shrinkage is causing significant challenges for the retail industry. It has always been an issue within the sector, but in a cost of living crisis, and with the recent growth in shrink, many big names across the globe are actively searching for solutions. A retailer’s success is dependent on razor-thin margins, and rising theft will only further damage their progress. It is essential that retailers prioritise their efforts to minimise shrink

Reducing in-store theft

 Sainsbury’s and Morrisons have introduced self-checkout barriers to reduce shoplifting. However, questions remain over their impact. These barriers open when a shopping receipt is scanned. But they do not check the number of items being taken out of the store. Shoplifters can still pay for one item, steal others and easily pass through these barriers without even being noticed.

This is where RFID technology comes into play. Where traditional barriers fail, RFID-powered self-checkout kiosks can help retailers reduce theft. These self-checkout systems allow customers to instantly scan all items from their shopping baskets and require them to make payments to complete the checkout process before they finally leave the store.

RFID-powered self-checkout terminals are capable of triggering alarms, flagging any unscanned items as customers pass through barriers. This can enable retailers to identify and curb shoplifting without hindering the customer experience. Once retailers have addressed the foundational issue of shrink, and found solutions to minimise theft within their stores, they can focus on providing high-quality customer experiences to stand out from the competition and maximise sales.

Self-checkout and the customer experience

 Not only do RFID-powered self-checkout terminals help retailers bolster security, but they streamline the checkout process for customers, reducing checkout and queuing times, and enabling them to complete their transactions at their own pace.

From a retailer’s perspective, the technology facilitates more transactions in less time. This can be significantly helpful during busy shopping seasons when retailers need to serve more customers. Retailers can cut down queue times and increase the number of transactions completed while leaving a positive impression at the checkout, often the last touchpoint a shopper has with a retailer during the in-store shopping experience.

What’s more, with the technology deployed, fewer staff members are tied to point of sale (POS) terminals, enabling retailers to deploy more staff completely focused on adding value to the customer experience. Sales associates can dedicate their time to making meaningful recommendations for customers based on their previous purchases, suggest alternative items to products that are out of stock, or even facilitate omnichannel fulfilment options such as Buy Online, Pickup In-store (BOPIS) and Buy Online, Return In-store (BORIS). All this enables retailers to provide a top-tier shopping experience and gain a competitive edge, allowing them to provide their customers with the best of both worlds: enough staff to assist if needed, and a streamlined checkout process that allows customers to checkout at their own pace.

Preparing for the future

There is no denying that rapidly evolving customer expectations and advancements in technology are only making the retail environment more competitive. To keep pace with their competitors, retailers need to deliver unparalleled customer experience. However, to boost profitability and sustain growth, they must be able to protect themselves from becoming a victim of retail shrink. Leveraging RFID’s capabilities in-store to bolster security, retailers can successfully focus on fuelling their growth.

H2 2023 has already kicked off, and retailers must prepare to make the most of upcoming shopping peaks such as Black Friday and the following festive period. Those who utilise RFID technology to its full potential can minimise shrinkage and thrive in the market.

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