Walmart using A.I.-powered cameras to spot dodgy shoppers at self-checkouts

Walmart may be some time away from following in Amazon’s footsteps when it comes to checkout-free stores, so until then, it has to find its own ways of reducing cases of theft at the final stage of a customer’s shop.

Current efforts include the use of computer vision technology at self-checkout counters, Business Insider reported this week.

The big-box retailer confirmed its use of A.I.-powered surveillance, adding that it’s currently in operation at around 20% of its U.S. stores.

The system, called Missed Scan Detection, does what it says, deploying advanced cameras to look for underhand behavior taking place at Walmart’s checkouts.

If the software powering the system understands that an item has passed the scanner without being scanned, an alert is automatically sent to a member of staff who will then investigate to find out what happened. It’s not clear if the technology is advanced enough to detect all of the various different tricks some determined shoplifters deploy at self-checkout counters, though it’s likely that Walmart is working to further develop the system.

Walmart spokeswoman LeMia Jenkins told Business Insider that to date, the company has invested more than $500 million in a bid to tackle crime at its stores.

One answer to shoplifting may be provided by a setup similar to Amazon’s checkout-free Go stores, which use cameras and sensors to track customers as they make their way around the premises, calculating the cost of their shop and automatically charging their Amazon account when they leave. The technology is even clever enough to notice if you return an item to the shelf from your bag should you decide later that you don’t want it.

There are currently 11 Amazon Go stores operating across the U.S.

Walmart tried a low-tech version of the Go store in 2018 — called “Scan & Go” — where customers used a barcode scanner to add up the cost of their shop as they made their way around the store. But it soon ditched the system following poor feedback, low customer take-up — and theft at an even higher level than at self-checkouts, according to one former Walmart executive.

Another admittedly drastic solution would be for Walmart to move its entire operation online. The company has certainly been making efforts to enhance its online shopping experience lately with a revamped website and improvements to its delivery service.

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