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Grocery self-checkouts are meant to be convenient, though even fans will admit there are times they can be kind of cumbersome. There are the attendants hovering over your shoulder, volunteering their assistance whether you want it or not – the same attendants who seem to disappear when you do actually need them, to help override an error message or accept your coupons.

So taking the actual self-checkouts out of the equation was supposed to make things even easier. Many stores have experimented with allowing you to scan your own items as you shop, so you can just walk out when you’re done. And that has indeed made things easier – for shoppers and, apparently, for shoplifters.

Wegmans has pulled the plug on its “SCAN app,” which allowed shoppers to scan and bag their own groceries as they shopped. The reason? Too many users were stealing stuff.

“SCAN users have told us they love the app and the convenience it offers,” Wegmans announced in an email to customers this week. “Unfortunately, the losses we are experiencing from this program prevent us from continuing to make it available in its current state.”

Wegmans introduced the SCAN app to a single store back in 2019. A year later, when the coronavirus pandemic came along and wary customers were looking for contactless in-store shopping options, Wegmans quickly ramped up the app’s rollout across all of its stores.

“As technology has evolved to enable more self-service, our customers are increasingly looking for options that save time and give them the ability to shop how they want,” Wegmans said at the time. “We know success only comes when the right technology is introduced at the right time, and that’s what we have with Wegmans SCAN.”

Or not.

We “have tried many adjustments to keep it,” Wegmans said of its decision to shut down the SCAN app effective this coming Sunday. “We’ve learned a lot and we will continue to introduce new digital solutions to streamline your shopping experience for the future.”

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So maybe Wegmans’ self-scan system was not quite ready for prime time. That’s even though scanning-as-you-go is not a brand new technology. Grocery chains like Albertsons and Stop & Shop were among the first to introduce self-scan technology beginning nearly two decades ago, using store-provided handheld wands. Apps took over as smartphones became more prevalent, leading other retailers like Walmart to try out the technology.

But theft – and how to prevent it – has always been a concern.

A 2016 study warned that retailers offering self-scan apps “could find themselves accused of making theft so easy that some customers who would normally, and happily, pay are tempted to commit crime.” When human interaction is removed from the shopping process, the report’s authors argued that shoppers’ sense of risk perception is reduced, leading to higher levels of “accidental” mis-scans or missed scans, than more traditional self-checkout kiosks.

A followup study by one of the same authors two years later cited data suggesting that losses attributed to scan-and-go could be as high as 5% of a store’s sales. “This is a frightening prospect that certainly brings into question the financial viability of the technology,” the report warned.

Other grocery stores are sticking with their self-scan option, saying that shoplifting comes with the territory – but they’d rather fight theft than give up on offering a popular convenience. “Unfortunately, theft is a part of an everyday occurrence,” Wegmans rival Tops Friendly Markets said in a statement about its own SHOP + SCAN app. “However, this is carefully monitored by random audits.”

Shoppers who used Wegmans’ app to shoplift are not exactly going public with complaints about its demise. But shoppers who used the app legitimately, are.

“This will literally make me shop less at Wegmans. The convenience of completing my shopping, bagging my own items, and not having to go through regular checkout often made it worth a separate trip,” one Twitter user wrote. “The Wegmans scan app was such a boost for my grocery store productivity. Sad to see it go. I’ll miss it as I stand in the check-out line,” another tweeted. “People always find a way to ruin nice things!” a third online commenter wrote.

As an apology, Wegmans is offering a $20 coupon to its most loyal SCAN users. And it’s suggesting the app might not be gone for good. “We’ve made the decision to turn off the app until we can make improvements that will meet the needs of our customers and business,” the retailer explained.

Meanwhile, other retailers are experimenting with smart carts and product-sensing cameras that will allow you to check out without having to scan any bar codes at all – thwarting would-be shoplifters in the process. As high-tech as scan-and-go technology might have seemed two decades ago, by the time Wegmans introduced it years later, scan-and-go may already have been superseded by newer, better and more theft-proof technology.

So scan-and-go is no longer a “go” for at least one grocery chain. Some fans might say the change will make them not want to go to Wegmans anymore – but Wegmans can only hope the thieves will find somewhere else to shop, too.

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