Ex-Walmart exec says theft helped kill Walmart's cashierless checkout technology

WalmartTheft was a major problem with Walmart’s Scan & Go app.
  • A former Walmart executive said shopper theft was a major reason why the company killed Scan & Go, a cashierless-checkout technology, several months after expanding it to more than 100 stores.
  • “You think that the theft is bad on self-checkouts? Wait until you try Scan & Go, where nobody is watching the customers out in the aisles,” said Joel Larson, who was Walmart’s head of checkout innovation until October.
  • A customer tried to leave a Walmart store with a cart filled with about 100 items, only 40 of which were scanned with Scan & Go, Larson said.
  • Walmart recently rolled out a new mobile-checkout program called Check Out With Me that enables roaming Walmart employees to process customers’ payments using handheld devices made by the San Francisco company Innowi, which Larson joined after leaving Walmart.

A former Walmart executive said shopper theft was a major reason why the company killed Scan & Go, a cashierless-checkout technology, several months after expanding it to more than 100 stores.

“You think that the theft is bad on self-checkouts? Wait until you try Scan & Go, where nobody is watching the customers out in the aisles,” said Joel Larson, a former Walmart senior manager who led Scan & Go as the head of checkout innovation before leaving the company in October.

Walmart representatives have previously discussed the decision to end the program and cited problems such as low customer-adoption rates and various errors.

“We found too many errors in the process … making sure people were scanning things right, multiple quantities, that sort of thing,” Walmart chief technology officer Jeremy King said during a conference last month.

In one case during the Scan & Go rollout, a customer tried to leave a Walmart store with a cart of about 100 items, only 40 of which he had scanned, Larson said.


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Larson recalled a Walmart executive joking about issues with Scan & Go at a company town-hall meeting last summer.

“We’re just going to call the program ‘Go’ because the customers can’t seem to ‘Scan’ anything,'” the executive said, according to Larson’s recollection.

In response to this story, Walmart referred Business Insider to a statement the company issued when the program ended.

“In our efforts to minimise friction points, we found that the program created some of its own such as receipt checks, weighted produce, and un-bagged merchandise resulting from using the program,” Walmart said. “Additionally, low adoption played a role in the removal of the program.”

GettyImages 916117334Jeff Greenberg / Contributor / Getty ImagesWalmart has rolled out a new mobile-checkout program to all its US stores called Check Out With Me.

Walmart rolled out another mobile-checkout program to all its US stores late last year called Check Out With Me.

Check Out With Me enables roaming Walmart employees to process customers’ payments using handheld devices made by the San Francisco company Innowi, which Larson joined after leaving Walmart.

If the program sounds familiar, that’s because it is: Apple pioneered this checkout concept in its stores in 2006.

More than 10 years later, the concept has made its way to the world’s largest retailer. Larson is betting that it will continue to grow in popularity until it’s used by all major retailers. (Of course, he would benefit if this happened, given his position at Innowi).


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Here’s why he thinks the concept will succeed:

Check Out With Me theft rates, which the retail industry calls shrink, are lower than at self-checkout registers or Scan & Go, he said.

A popular tactic that thieves use at self-checkout registers is called “ticket-switching.” This is when people discreetly cover the barcode of an item, such as a $US30 rib-eye steak, with the barcode of a cheaper product, such as a packet of Kool-Aid, when using the self-checkout scanner.

“Now they just got rib-eye steaks for $US0.99,” Larson said.

Walmart Check Out With MeWalmartCheck Out With Me enables roaming Walmart employees to process customers’ payments using handheld devices made by the San Francisco company Innowi.

Thieves don’t have this option with Check Out With Me because scanning is executed by a store employee.

Mobile-checkout concepts such as Check Out With Me also tend to be faster than self-checkout. Self-checkout transactions can take two-to-three times longer than transactions at registers manned by employees, Larson said.

The concept helps alleviate lines of customers at the front of stores, which is a primary goal of Walmart’s checkout innovation team, he said.

“Now your customers can check out with any employee, with the one stocking the shelves, literally anywhere in the store, and you really take a lot of that pressure off the lines in the front of the store and move it elsewhere with people that you trust, with your own employees,” he said.

And finally, the concept is relatively easy to scale, especially compared with technology that relies on dozens of cameras, such as Amazon Go’s computer vision, he said.

“I think not just Walmart, but every retailer will test-fail-learn with all these different [checkout] methods, and eventually land on what Apple has been doing all along,” he said.

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