Retailers Are Facing a Self-Checkout “Reckoning.” How Does that Affect Aldi?

Aldi Self-Checkout

EDITOR’S NOTE: Like all posts on Aldi Reviewer, this piece is the opinion of its respective authors. Also like all posts, comments are welcome, although we ask users to be mindful of our Community Guidelines.

The media had things to say about self-checkout in October.

On October 5, Business Insider ran a piece titled “Retailers appear to be facing a self-checkout reckoning.” In it, the media outlet explored some of the unexpected hurdles the self-checkout movement has run into, particularly in the last year. The piece profiled the likes of Costco, Walmart, and Kroger, examining some of the challengers each retailer has faced.

Then, on October 18, The Atlantic ran the piece “Self-Checkout is a Failed Experiment.” (Note: The Atlantic piece is behind a metered paywall.) It, too, profiled the problems with self-checkout, echoing many of the concerns of the Business Insider article while introducing a few additional ones.

Both articles highlighted the problem of shrinkage, or a loss of inventory for reasons that can include shoplifting and customer error. The Business Insider piece cited research indicating that self-checkout can increase losses by anywhere from 31% to 60%, quoting a loss prevention expert who pointed out that, with self checkout, “Inherently, that means there’s going to be less eyes on a transaction.” That means potential theft, but it can also be customers who aren’t as good at scanning as a trained worker.

The Atlantic agreed, noting that shoplifters are are more likely to act when they think they won’t get caught, a problem heightened by cutting workers up front. “[W]hen even customers who want to pay for something struggle to flag down an employee,” the author argued, “the store has already forfeited that battle entirely.” (Emphasis is the article’s.)

We’ve seen this personally. Earlier this month, Aldi Reviewer writer Rachael was out at our local Target only to discover that all of the store’s self-checkouts were closed. When Rachael asked a cashier what happened, the cashier gave a one-word reply: “stealing.” Rachael noticed the self-checkouts did reopen after a shutdown of at least two weeks. Target has been in the news in recent weeks for its decision to close a number of stores entirely over shoplifting and “organized retail crime.” Our own local store does not appear immune, and by all appearances it would seem like our local store believes closing self-checkout is a step toward reducing theft.

Both the Business Insider and Atlantic articles also pointed out that self-checkout isn’t always the kind of labor cost savings that businesses expect it to be. Because grocers still need staff to help with the checkout process, machine troubleshooting, and customer monitoring, the labor savings isn’t always great, and there may be other cost considerations associated with self-checkout, including beefed up IT staff to maintain the emerging self-checkout technology.

Unfortunately, as The Atlantic pointed out, the amount of money retailers have already sunk into the tech means that it will probably be around for years to come … regardless of the problems.

Aldi and the Challenges of Self-Checkout

We’ve debated self-checkout on this site before. We’ve discussed it among our writers and have pointed out the potential challenges for customers. I’ve personally been a skeptic of the tech — like the Atlantic writer, I think checkout-free is the more promising technology — but I’ve also reluctantly conceded that Aldi deployed self-checkout pretty smoothly.

However, in all of that, we’ve looked at self-checkout through a single lens: that of the consumer. We’ve never talked about the impact it might have on Aldi, and for a reason: Aldi is a secretive enough company that even if we wanted to know the financials behind Aldi’s self-checkout push, we wouldn’t be able to find them. Because the grocer is privately owned, it doesn’t have to divulge the kind of information a Walmart or Target might.

And let’s be honest: Aldi is the kind of disciplined company that clearly thinks it will come out ahead with self-checkout. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t be adopting self-checkout as aggressively as it has.

Still, it makes us wonder: how are Aldi stores being affected by the same problems other retailers are facing regarding self-checkout? Our Aldi stores are lean-staffed as is, and our self-checkouts at Aldi are minimally staffed. It’s not uncommon for us to go to the checkout at Aldi and find a single employee — the worker at the one open standard checkout — in charge of both checking out people on their own register while keeping half an eye on the multitude of self-checkout stations. It’s not hard for us to see where errors (or dishonesty) would be more likely … a problem for a small inventory grocer.

No doubt Aldi is tracking shrinkage among its many other data points, and if there are losses, the grocer will see them. For now, though, Aldi is all-in on the technology, like most other retailers.

Except for Trader Joe’s, of course.

About Joshua

Joshua is the Co-founder of Aldi Reviewer. He is also a writer and novelist. You can learn more about him at


  1. I don’t think you’ve looked at it through the single lens of the consumer at all. In fact, this and all the linked articles I clicked on pretty much focused on the business perspective.

    To look at things from the customer’s viewpoint there must be acknowledgment that self-checkout is uncompensated labor. Customer’s are doing for free what cashiers get paid to do. This can’t be ignored or understated. So while I’ve never done it, if a customer doesn’t scan an item or two, I won’t shed any tears or lose any sleep.

    • Our linked pieces have talked at length about various aspects of the consumer experience, including the accuracy and accessibility of the checkout technology and some of the advantages, such as for introverts.

      As for the uncompensated labor angle, that seems more of an argument I’ve heard from people concerned about lost jobs than people concerned about the customer experience — in other words, a labor subject more than a customer satisfaction subject. In truth, how people feel about self-checkout ultimately comes down to if it makes their experience faster. Customers with just a few items are more likely to prefer self-checkout, since they perceive that it is faster than a standard checkout and they’re exercising a comparatively miniscule amount of labor — just scanning a couple of items and putting them in a bag.

      • We don’t “perceive” it is faster, it IS faster. I never have more than a few items at Aldi’s, so I rarely shopped there before self checkout.

        • It *might* be faster, but that would depend on a lot of factors including how many self-checkout kiosks there are, how many manned checkouts there would be if the self-checkout kiosks were absent, or how many items are in a cart. That’s a lot of factors to control for, which is why there is not much evidence right now one way or another. What we do know is that people certainly *perceive* that it is faster, in no small part because humans perceive time differently when they’re busy compared to idling.

    • My thoughts exactly. I’m old enough to remember when self-service at the gas station, I.e. pumping your own gas, started with a discount on the price per gallon. It lasted a while. This checking AND bagging your own groceries never started this way. It just started with elimination of checkers.

    • Colleen M. Keenan- Galione

      Exactly, putting people out of work, especially in this environment is criminal in my opinion. I understand that the self-service is convenient for people in a hurry with a small amount of merchandise but the risk of theft and the temptation outweighs the benefits. Even a blind person can see this.

    • The Aldi self checkout is particularly annoying as it constantly tells you to scan an item. It’s bad enough to have to shop and WORK in the same store.. and be constantly aggravated. Aldi has gone from the TOP to the BOTTOM of my grocery shopping stores!

  2. I’ll never understand the argument that people are performing uncompensated labor. I guess they’re also still nostalgic for the days when people filled out a list of items and then watched a clerk collect them from the display behind the counter. Self checkout is great for those of us who walk or use public transportation and thus don’t cartloads of stuff at a time.

  3. This only works at Costco, where the number of items on the receipt is checked against the items in the cart. It’s too easy to combine some items at self checkout as a single item.

  4. I know that I’m in the minority as I prefer to use cash. None of the self checkouts in our local Aldi stores accept cash. This has become more and more commonplace in stores…Sam’s, Wegman’s etc. Prices are going up enough due to inflation and now theft of goods are adding to that increase. Not sure what the answer is, but I’d like to see more cashier aisles available.

    • I agree. I don’t like to charge my groceries. I prefer to have a cashier. Aldi is fast at the checkout so I don’t like the self-checkouts. We are still bagging our groceries but that balances the savings. I would like to let the decision makers at Aldi that more cashiers are a better solution than self checkout.

  5. I don’t look at it as uncompensated labor, after all, most businesses are having problems finding people that will work. So how is self checkout uncompensated labor? I LOVE self checkout and it’s the only reason I shop at Aldi’s. I used to wait in line for 15 minutes with 2 items in hand before self checkout.

  6. self check out takes jobs away from people ,if i wanted to go to work i would but i don’t get paid to check myself out,maybe if i checkout my self i should get a discount.

  7. I will say that I hate self checkout but I like Aldi’s. Somehow they are fast. They don’t seem to weigh your bags, like most grocers (which adds to the time because you have to wait for the scale to acknowledge you put the item in the bag). Overall, I like them at Aldi, and only Aldi. This encourages me to use them.

    • Ditto to all of this. I avoid it at the big-chain supermarkets — every time I’ve used it there, there’s been computer error or hiccups of some kind — but Aldi’s seems to work smoothly. At my local Aldi, there were never very many cashier lines open anyway, and as a result there were checkout lines extending halfway through the store. In this case, self-checkout has improved the overall experience.

  8. I decreased my use of self-checkout when I saw a TV report of a black woman who claimed that she accidentally forgot to scan something and was arrested and charged with theft. I recall that charges were eventually dropped but she was banned from the store. I’m not black, nor a woman, but I could see myself accidentally not scanning something. So I’ll skip the “convenience” of self scanning if I have more than a very few items. Any chance for error could result in a significant penalty.

    • That’s why I believe in trained cashiers. If they want customers to self checkout, then places that do this should at least give the customers access to employee training videos either on Youtube or public access channels.

  9. I have 2 self-checkout comments specific to Aldi. First, this is the only store where I shop that alcohol purchases are not flagged for ID check before the payment can be made. In the college town where I shop, I see a lot of sweet babies leaving with Aldi wine! It saves my gray-haired self some time, but how is Aldi able to get around state excise laws? Second, i know Aldi has a lean staff, but there needs to be someone to occasionally wipe down the scanners. I don’t see filth at the self checkouts at any other stores, but they are disgusting at Aldi

  10. I am a regular Aldi shopper.. 1 to 2 times per week. We usually have a full cart, spending between $60 – $100. I ALWAYS go to the clerk at checkout. It is faster than I can self-check and with so many items, I need a big conveyor belt for the groceries. Additionally, I must say that I enjoy the “human contact” and personal friendly, efficient service the Aldi associates provide.

  11. Immediate thought when I saw my first self checkout was “They’ll be sorry”. I was right of course. It takes a very insightful, pragmatic person to predict this result. I am she, grocery executives, as most, have skewed vision. I have a very long laundry list of bad business practices that a 5 year old would see. Greed eats away the brain. Besides, Cashiers are in need of these jobs for which they are grossly underpaid (except C0stco).

  12. I’ll be shopping elsewhere if I have to self-check. It’s bad enough that we have to bag our own purchases. Goodbye Aldi.

    • Colleen M. Keenan- Galione

      I actually enjoy bagging my own purchases. Since I am an ultra-organized person, I set up my bags, separating the frozen from refrigerator items and the pantry stuff from my everyday items like bread and bagels, fresh fruit, bananas, etc. When I get home it is so easy to unpack and I never have any damaged articles.

    • I will be going to the human or pressing the HELP button until someone shows up up the self checkout . Worked for me at Home Depot and the boy their thanked me, he said he was so BORED from just standing around doing NOTHING for hours he was ready to quit .

  13. I will never use self check-out unless every store that is close to me takes out cashier operated registers. It has nothing to do with having to do the actual act of scanning… but shopping tires me out enough without doing that extra step AND the fear of making an honest mistake and getting into trouble. That being said if other people want to use it… I say go for it!!

  14. I have a question. Do we need 2 carriages? Explain how this new self-check out works. We show up at kiosk w/cart of groceries- if there’s not enough room to take it all out and place on counter to ring up and then put back into our same cart..does that mean we need a 2nd cart? Or, do we scan each item and place it on the small counter space (in a bag) and if there’s not enough I have to put the bags on the floor? Or put the bag back into the cart even if it has some groceries still left to be scanned? If Aldi is so worried about theft- this sounds to be more of an opportunity to steal. I know customers will take much longer to scan and bag vs having a worker scan. Just my opinion.

    • In my Aldi, they left one cashier lane and the rest are self-checkout. I usually like to go to the cashier to save a person’s job, but the line is so long now in the cashier lane, that I go to the self-checkout as I only have a few items. As far as it being difficult to scan – as to being tired and not having enough room (I’m 79), I just pick up the handheld scanner and scan all of my items. I never have to take them out of the cart and I don’t bag them. I take the cart to my car where I have boxes or bags and just put them in the car and return my cart. This makes it all very easy.

  15. Aldi has the best photocells and software for a quick and uneventful self checkout.
    I only bog down with some vegetable readings but that is the way it is. As for alcoholic beverages the ALDI crew has it down to a science. When the reader identifies an alcohol, a live person at a register quickly sums up that you’re of age from a distance. It goes through very quickly this way.
    Yes, the checkout area needs additional cleaning and that should be addressed– but we must remember that this store uses a limited crew and that is the compromise. I’m watching my money and Aldi is my solution– not my only solution– but is my main grocery store.

    Shrinkage due to shoplifting is overblown fear mongering to cover up for corporate mismanagement.
    I use the cashier checkout because I buy a lot of groceries. Also because I buy beer & wine – you cannot self check booze!

    • You can buy alcohol at the self-checkout at Aldi. See some of the comments a little farther up here.

      • I am not sure that applies to all stores. State laws vary. It puts more pressure on the one cashier they do have up front. I think self checkouts are inevitable but I think there are too many.

  17. Love Aldi’s self checkout but I don’t want them to suffer from theft. People ruining good things!

  18. I love it. Of course the last 10 yrs. of my working life I was a scanner for a car dealership. I can take my time and pack my groceries the way I want.

  19. My only problem with the self checkout is that they don’t get cleaned. Some of them are really dirty!

  20. Until Aldi adds an employee positioned “express” checkout lane (unlikely, given the small size of my local store), I’ll continue using self-checkout. I only purchase a small amount of goods so self-checkout is terrific for me. I’m in and out of the store much faster, plus I’m shopping there more frequently now that I don’t have to stand in line behind family carts filled to the brim, holding my bread and eggs, for 15 minutes.

  21. I love self-checkout. Of course the last 10 yrs. of my working life was doing scanning for two car dealerships. I can scan and pack items as I please. I can even run back and get another item in the middle of scanning if it isn’t busy. I think it is great. Sorry some people are taking advantage of it by stealing.

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