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Study: Mobile-scan-and-pay technologies encourage retail theft

Mobile-scan-and-pay technologies are promoting theft, according to a report by University of Leicester criminologists

The report suggests mobile-scan-and-pay technologies generate a significantly high rate of loss for retailers, as the technology removes human contact from the shopping process.

University of Leicester criminologists stated the technology makes it easier for shoppers to steal, while also reducing the perception of legal consequence. The research suggested this can lead to customers, who would normally pay for items, to be tempted to commit a crime.

Technologies which allow customers to use their own mobile devices to scan and pay for items also provide "ready-made excuses" for theft, including blaming faulty technology or claiming they are not technically proficient.

"Both loved and loathed by consumers, with the phrase ‘unexpected item in the bagging area’ striking dread into many a shopper, self-scan technologies are growing in use and likely to become even more prominent as we begin to be encouraged to use our own mobile devices to both scan and pay for products in the stores we visit," said Professor Adrian Beck, from University of Leicester's Department of Criminology.

"From the retailers’ perspective, the benefits seem obvious – less investment required in staff and checkout technologies, with the former being the biggest expense they face. For the shopper it could mean the end of checkout queues as product scanning and payment can in theory be performed anywhere in the store at their convenience. To borrow a well-warn Top Gear phrase, ‘what could possibly go wrong’? Well, our research found that quite a bit could and does go wrong, with some potentially rather worrying long term consequences."

The University of Leicester report stated self-scanning technologies generated significantly high rates of loss – more than 122% higher than the average.

The report also concluded it is difficult for retailers to identify whether customers intended to not scan an item or if they were simply absentminded or poor at scanning items consistently

Dr Matt Hopkins, University of Leicester's Department of Criminology, added: "Retailers are becoming aware of these problems and introducing ways of ‘amplifying’ risk in the mobile scan and pay environment, trying to ensure that all that ends up in the basket also makes it onto the receipt."

He said: "All innovations in retailing are a business choice – hopefully done to make the shopper happier and the business more profitable. But those same choices can also produce negative outcomes as well, such as increased opportunities for losses to occur."