Self Checkout

Most of us have grown accustomed to needing a store loyalty card to take advantage of sale prices and perks like doubled and digital coupons. Those who refuse loyalty cards quite literally have to pay the price: no card, no savings. Many privacy enthusiasts are okay with that. But some are not okay with one store’s latest move – requiring a loyalty card to use its self-checkout machines.

Pittsburgh-based Giant Eagle quietly began implementing that policy in some stores a few weeks ago, and has confirmed that it’s expanding the requirement to all of its stores this month. If you don’t have a Giant Eagle Advantage Card, or don’t want to scan it – no self-checkout for you.

“Scanning a Giant Eagle Advantage Card ensures that customers receive all available weekly specials, fuelperks!, personalized register coupon offers and other savings, while also making available vital customer contact information in the instance of a product recall,” the company said in a statement.

Sounds nice – they just want to make sure we save money. But if that’s the case, why not require a card in staffed checkout lanes too? Those who don’t hand a card to a cashier also may not “receive all available weekly specials, fuelperks!, personalized register coupon offers and other savings” – and they certainly don’t provide that “vital customer contact information.”

What the statement goes on to say, is what many customers and retail analysts believe is the real point. Requiring a loyalty card at self-checkout will allow the store to contact any customer who has a problem with an “incomplete or incorrect transaction (i.e. mistakenly paid an incorrect amount for an item), or an issue with a payment method.”


In other words, if you steal stuff, they know who you are.

Stealing has long been a concern at stores that offer self-checkout. There are those who might “forget” to scan items, or who scan inexpensive things and then bag more expensive ones. Many stores have installed additional security cameras to help supplement the work of the watchful attendant who is sometimes there, sometimes not. There are also the scales that weigh the items you scan, which tend to annoyingly call out “unexpected item in bagging area” all the time.

Some grocery chains have decided it’s not worth the trouble. New England’s Big Y is one of several chains that got rid of self-checkout machines a couple of years ago, and it admitted that stealing was one of the reasons (read: “Self-Scan’s Biggest Benefit: Convenience, Cost Savings or Coupons?”). But it also later admitted that removing the self-checkouts didn’t seem to have a noticeable effect on shoplifting patterns. “If they don’t find one way to steal, they’ll find another way,” a spokesperson told USA Today.

Giant Eagle says most self-checkout customers already scan their cards, so requiring them to do so shouldn’t be a big deal for most. But it’s still upsetting to some. And presumably, those who are upset about the change aren’t all secretly shoplifters. While surveys have suggested that the majority of shoppers are okay with giving up a little personal information in order to get the savings that loyalty programs provide (read: “Don’t Invade My Privacy! Unless You Have Coupons. Then It’s Ok.”), others refuse to jump on the loyalty card bandwagon. “Giant Eagle, you are making it very easy to shop elsewhere,” one commenter complained on the store’s Facebook page. “What an invasion of privacy!” wrote another. “I have been in stores where they refuse to open the real lanes during the overnight hours,” a third commenter noted. “Does this mean those of us who don’t want our purchases tracked can’t even buy anything at those times?”

It’s unusual to require a loyalty card at self-checkout. But it’s becoming the norm to hand over some personal information in order to use newer self-scanning technology that allows you to scan items as you shop. Stop & Shop’s “Scan It!” app requires the use of a store loyalty card, and Walmart’s “Scan and Go” requires you to create an account before using it (read: “Walmart Plans to Introduce Digital Coupons”). So Giant Eagle’s move ultimately isn’t quite as unusual as it might first appear. And it’s a lot less expensive than installing more anti-theft devices.

“Our customers are looking for a pleasant and convenient checkout experience, and many look toward our self checkout lanes to find that,” a Giant Eagle executive says in promotional material for the IBM self-checkout systems it uses. The machines, IBM notes, “optimize throughput and boost loyalty.”

Especially when your loyalty is required to be able to use them at all.

One Comment

  1. This is a complete invasion of privacy! Big Buzzard will want you to put 666 on your body next or no service. You should be aloud to opt out of data mining if you choose so. I say if the Buzzard wants the data give them false data. A database full of false data is worth less than used TP.

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