Most shops have a form of surveillance on hand to keep watch over the visiting patrons. For security reasons alone, it’s a necessity. But have you ever wondered just how closely you’re being monitored by these cameras? Well, a Walmart worker shared some surprising details on that front via social media.
The supermarket staff member zoned in on the checkout area in particular — specifically the self-service machines. Now, we shouldn’t be too shocked that these spots are constantly under watch at Walmart.
After all, it’s your last stop before leaving the shop and heading back to your vehicle.
At the same time, though, the sheer closeness of the monitoring could catch you off guard, and it might well linger in the back of your mind on future trips! But that’s not all.
In addition to the Walmart worker’s revelations, some other information regarding the shop’s security measures have also come to light.
As self checkout machines continue to evolve and become more prevalent, it’s natural to expect security measures around them to follow suit.
And the technology has come a long way since the original tools were first introduced into our stores.
How it all began...
So what kick-started the self-service revolution, then? Well, the BBC website noted that 1967 was an important year in that respect.
During that period, the ATM was created in England. Yes folks, those banking machines have been around for over five decades now. That’s one to remember for your next trivia night!
Power of convenience
Thanks to ATMs, the public could withdraw money without traveling to their bank and speaking to a teller in person. It was a significant moment.
Yet it didn’t lead to an immediate emergence of automated services in supermarkets. In fact, we had to wait nearly 20 years for that to happen after the banking machines cropped up.
Meeting David R. Humble
So that brings us to Florida in the 1980s. A man named David R.
Humble went shopping one day, only to be greeted by a huge queue at the tills. He joined the line, but it showed no signs of speeding up. And that led to an interaction that would ultimately change checkout experiences going forward.
Birth of an idea
You see, Humble was behind a guy who grew increasingly frustrated with the till worker. In the end, it all bubbled over, as he snatched the scan gun out of their hands and rang up his own shopping.
At that stage, an idea popped into Humble’s head. Could self-service checkouts speed up the process?
Fortunately for Humble, he was in an ideal position to find out — he ran an electronics business. Thanks to his position, he was able to persuade his colleagues to create the very first automated checkout machine.
It proved to be an expensive and time-consuming endeavor, though. As per the website of newspaper The Oaklahoman, the project cost $5 million and spanned three years.
From there, the technology made its public bow in 1986. Customers at a Kroger shop in Georgia were the first ones to get to grips with the new service.
And the rest is history, folks! The checkouts have since grown in popularity all around the globe: these days the stats are eye-opening.
A global hit
According to the BBC, more than 200,000 self-service checkouts were in operation globally by 2013. And by 2021, it was projected that the figure would have shot up to around 325,000.
We wonder if Humble foresaw that stunning rise when the idea first came to him?
Anyway, it’s not too difficult to figure out why people have taken to the technology. It’s convenient and allows customers to get their shopping done more quickly, while also cutting down on lines.
Plus, from the stores’ perspective, the equipment trims costs as well. There’s a reduced need to employ checkout workers when the process is mostly automated.
...and a big negative
But for all the positives, there are a few drawbacks, too. One of the biggest is that the machines have afforded greater opportunities for store visitors intent on stealing items rather than scanning and paying for them.
After all, as they’re not dealing with the clerks any more, so what’s stopping them? And there’s also another factor to consider here.
“Bit of a hassle”
To go into more detail, Bob Moraca spoke to Newsweek magazine in January 2022. He’s a former employee of the National Retail Federation.
Looking at it from a prospective thief’s perspective, Moraca said, “Now I’ve got to bag my own stuff and check out myself. It’s a little bit of a hassle, so guess what? I get to take one or two things for free.”
Broadly speaking, chains such as Walmart really do get hit hard when it comes to stealing. According to Reuters, the supermarket business was losing roughly $3 billion annually on that front by 2015.
No wonder surveillance is so tight in stores!
It’s reasonable to ponder, if stores are going to become more automated as time goes on, how can potential thefts be curbed? What will deter would-be thieves when human staffing levels are cut back to the bare minimum?
Well, a couple of places are providing a possible peek into the future.
Amazon Go is one of them. For those of you who don’t know, these shops have no checkouts at all.
So what stops customers from stealing stuff, then? Simple — your movements are tracked as soon as you sign in at the door. The company shed some additional light on that in a post on Amazon.com.
“Just Walk Out Technology”
It read, “Amazon Go was the first store to open with Just Walk Out Technology. Our checkout-free shopping experience is made possible by the same types of technologies used in self-driving cars: computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning.”
The firm explained how automated sensors detected whenever a product was taken off or returned to a shelf, monitoring all movements via “virtual carts”.
“When you’re done shopping, you can just leave the store,” the post added. “Later, we’ll send you a receipt and charge your Amazon account.”
Of course, this system theoretically makes it exceptionally difficult to steal goods sold in those shops. Fascinating! And a store in China has a similar structure in place as well.
Yes, BingoBox calls upon some of the same technology. The shops were rolled out back in 2016 after a man named Zilin Chen came up with the idea.
As for how the firm stops potential thefts, he dove into that subject while speaking to the Tech in Asia website in August 2018.
Chen revealed that levels of criminality inside the stores were generally low and not much effort was required to police their consumers. He added, “Our cameras are triggered by actions or behavior.
So, when some unpermitted behavior happens, our alarm system will turn on and the service team can immediately take over.”
“But these are extreme situations,” Chen added. “In our nearly two years of operations, we have encountered only three such incidents.
People generally tend to display good behavior.” That seems an impressively low figure, and a statistic likely to catch the attention of decision-makers at big supermarket chains.
Back to Walmart...
Speaking of large chains, that brings us back to Walmart. What are the stores’ security systems like around the self-service checkouts?
As we mentioned earlier, a worker provided some interesting details about that in a social media post in February 2022.
Taking to TikTok, a user named goooseman5 shared a video clip from one of Walmart’s security cameras. It was positioned right above the self-service checkout machines, giving staff a bird’s eye view of the area.
It provides a more detailed view than you might’ve expected before reading this, but that’s for good reason.
Caught in the act?
You see, in this snippet, the camera seems to capture a woman skipping the scans altogether. Instead, she just puts her shopping in the nearby bags.
Apparently, goooseman5 picked up on this during their shift at Walmart, which prompted them to post the video. It subsequently took TikTok by storm.
Yes, by March 2022 the clip had earned close to 200,000 views on the website. It was an intriguing glimpse at the level of surveillance at the stores — and how successful it can be.
The cameras are pretty much over your shoulders! But this wasn’t the first time that the system had been flagged up to the public.
For instance, in April 2017 Walmart released footage from an overhead camera to aid a police investigation. It captured several consumers taking advantage of a glitch in one of the self-service machines.
It was firing out $20 bills in change, as opposed to $5. In the end, close to $1,100 got swiped.
“Image recognition technology”
Thanks to the cameras, though, the authorities had something to go on in an effort to find the people involved. Yet the overhead surveillance isn’t the only thing Walmart uses around the self-service checkouts.
In fact, the shops call upon “image recognition technology” in a bid to stop thieves as well.
As per consumer advocate website Querysprout, more than 1,000 shops utilize thissystem. As for how it works, it’s set up close to the machines and the regular tills run by clerks.
The tech follows the products as opposed to the customers. And if any of the shopping doesn’t go through the scanner prior to being bagged, it’ll trigger a notice to Walmart security.
What can happen if the cameras catch you in the act? Well, QuerySprout claims that Walmart isn’t shy in pursuing criminal charges against thieves.
If found guilty, he or she may find themselves behind bars for a spell — sometimes 12 months or more. Obviously, sentences will depend on the gravity of the offense and any previous history of similar crimes.
Given the sheer amount of money that Walmart was losing annually to theft, that hard-line approach shouldn’t be too surprising. It’s a strong deterrent!
Then again, going back to the self-service checkouts, attempts at stealing can also play out another way.
In a different clip on social media, a Walmart employee revealed that their colleagues are given a hand-held tool when working near the machines.
They’re called TC devices, and can track all the scanned products from individual checkouts.
A fascinating trick
But according to an ex-Walmart staff member, sometimes an approach was used that would stop thieves in their tracks without getting security involved.
Her name is Athenia Camacho, and she shared the trick on TikTok in January 2022.
“Pretend there’s something wrong”
Camacho said, “On these Walmart TC devices we have the option to pause your self-checkout at any point. [We can] pretend there’s something wrong with the machine if we suspect there’s anything you’re stealing.”
From here, she reiterates how the tool works, before going into more detail about the trick.
“At any point on this device, if we click the number, it’ll show us your entire order and everything that you’ve so far scanned in,” Camacho continued.
“And if we suspect that you’re stealing, there's going to be an option at the bottom that says ‘pause transaction.’” And here’s how the tactic plays out.
Camacho stated that the touchscreen will do one of two things after the button is pushed. It can stop responding completely, giving off the impression that the machine has frozen.
Or, the picture can disappear, with a black background taking its place. There’s usually a bunch of white text in there, too.
Maintaining the ruse
“At that point you have no choice but to call for help,” Camacho noted. “And once we come over, we pretend like something is wrong with the machine.”
Then, to maintain the ruse, she said that staff would unlock the top of the checkout and give it a look over, hoping to find the “problem.”
“Take everything out”
As for what happens next, Camacho said, “At that point what [the worker will] do is, if you already have things inside the bag and you’re stealing, they’ll take everything out. They’ll be like, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll ring you up at another machine.
There must be something wrong with this one.’”
A huge response
Camacho then added, “[The staff will] just take you to a main checkout where there’s an actual person to cash you out.” Clever!
That video proved to be a huge hit on TikTok, earning about 5 million views at the time of writing. It was so popular that Newsweek actually reached out to her a few days later.
“Use it quite frequently”
The magazine asked for more information, and Camacho obliged. She said, “After about two weeks of being there I had a loss-prevention employee tell me [this trick].
I never used the technique, but I did see other employees use it quite frequently.”