Not always honest at supermarket self-checkout? AI is out to get you

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Not always honest at supermarket self-checkout? AI is out to get you

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Can the losses be fixed?
These are curious times at the supermarket checkout.
For a while, it looked as if supermarkets were investing more and more in self-checkout technology.
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This approach was completely understandable. It felt like a good investment, one that would obviate the need to employ so many people and to help cut costs, which is something a low-margin retail business craves.
Yet the practical deployment of self-checkout technology has been less edifying. Though some customers adore the ability to sweep through the self-checkout lanes without having to talk to anyone, others have been a touch outraged. 
One Rhode Island politician even tried to introduce a law preventing supermarkets from having too many self-checkout lanes open at any one time. The politician believes she shouldn’t have to do the work of a human member of staff.
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Target, too, has decided to limit self-checkout hours at some stores, in an effort to reduce the sorts of losses other supermarket chains say they’ve experienced at the automated machines. The cause of these losses? Dishonest shoppers, apparently.
One study suggested that so-called shrink — losses caused when goods aren’t paid for — might be as much as 16 times worse at self-checkout than at cashier-operated lanes.
Meanwhile, the BBC published a piece declaring: “‘It hasn’t delivered’: The spectacular failure of self-checkout technology.”
I started to feel mournful that self-checkout technology had been introduced without the fullest aforethought. However, Germany’s Retail Optimiser provided a more optimistic view
Perhaps, unsurprisingly, this positivity came from Diebold Nixdorf’s vice president of retail technology, Matt Redwood. After all, his company has something of a vested interest.
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Redwood says that, in Germany, “retailers are recording an increasing number of inventory discrepancies.” He concedes that “unintentional or deliberately missed scans, the manipulation of barcodes or when customers leave the checkout zone without making a payment” are all problems.
He believes, however, that there is a solution — and that solution is powered by AI.
Redwood explained in the article that Diebold Nixdorf’s AI-powered software suite, launched just this year, will make a considerable difference to non-payment. Known as ‘Vynamic Smart Vision | Shrink Reduction’, this technology suite communicates with a staff member clutching a tablet or phone.
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The technology brings together several pieces of software. There’s one application that automatically identifies an alcohol-purchaser’s age, one that claims to instantly recognize fruit and vegetables, which is one of the primary items of frustration for many customers, and one that does a little police work.
The company’s YouTube video offers the hearty promise of a “Retail AI Revolution”, one that ought — the company believes — to please supermarket owners and customers alike.
In essence, this software package means that you’re going to be more closely monitored at the self-checkout. If you happen to — accidentally, or less so — slip an item into your pocket, a supermarket employee will immediately get an alert.
You see, with this system, you’re being filmed from above, so smile and please don’t be naughty.
Redwood is clear that there are several issues this software should address. 
As an example: “If the scanned barcode does not match the item — such as when a label for bananas is attached to a whiskey bottle and items are deliberately or unintentionally not brought to the scanner.”
And then there’s the issue “when two items are held in front of each other, when customers pass an item past the scanner without actually scanning it or walk away from the self-service checkout without paying after a canceled transaction.”
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You might be wondering how the overhead camera detects such irregular actions. Well, the software quickly performs AI-powered video analysis, which could be seen as the equivalent of a passing police officer muttering: “Hmm, something’s not right here.”
The software does, though, first appeal to your honesty, notifying you of a perceived peculiarity. But the technology still doesn’t rely on your integrity: “At the same time, the employees are notified of the incorrect operation with the help of the intelligent assistant.”
And Diebold Nixdorf’s software does offer the retailer one more option: it can shut down the self-checkout machine, just like that.
It seems that the whole approach relies on the speed and accuracy of AI-powered video analysis. In which case, the process better be right or there might be some huffing and scuffling.
Yet Redwood believes his company’s software — specifically its claimed accuracy — will benefit store employees: “In cases where the customer has unknowingly made a mistake, they can provide support without directly assuming theft and thus scaring the customer off.”
But what about if a customer is simply pulling a fast one?
Redwood says: “In the event of an obvious attempt at fraud, security staff can intervene immediately, and employees are protected from potentially critical situations.”
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Personally, I’m fond of my local supermarket’s checkout staff. And at Trader Joe’s, which insists it’ll never house self-checkout machines, there’s an extra joy to be bathed in when you can chat to staff about the everyday issues of life, even if only for a moment.
Still, you can’t say Diebold Nixdorf isn’t trying — to make self-checkout more profitable.
And in an age where many people aren’t all that interested in, well, other people, the number of customers I see paying with their phones and not even looking at a store cashier is a touch chilling. 
In fact, I believe Diebold Nixdorf may have nixed many of the problems retailers are facing with self-checkout.
But will customers really love it? Oh, perhaps.

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