Californians love self-checkout. This misguided bill would stymie that option | Opinion

Over the years, California has developed a reputation for its distinct approach to lawmaking. Sometimes, that’s a good thing. Other times, some ideas coming from Sacramento more closely resemble parody. It’s enough to leave everyday Californians asking themselves, “What’s it this time?”

Well, this time, it’s regulating to the extreme self-checkout at your local grocery store.

Under the guise of combating retail theft, Sen. Lola Smallwood-Cuevas, D-Culver City, has introduced Senate Bill 1446, which would severely limit self-checkout and likely lead to many retailers eliminating this convenient and popular means of quickly paying for one’s grocery items. Specifically, SB 1446 seeks to legally limit self-checkout to 10 items or less, disallow any item secured by lock and key (like razors) from self-checkout and require one employee be positioned between every two self-checkout kiosks.


It used to be that California sought to be a leader in technology; however, under SB 1446, the state’s retail shopping environment would be resolutely stuck in the past. That’s because the bill doesn’t limit its ambitions to upending and presiding over the self-checkout process, it also takes aim at retail technology in general. The bill requires a special assessment of technologies before implementation for impacts on jobs and consumers. This process would have a chilling effect on technological investment and advancement throughout the state.

Let’s consider the facts about self-checkout: Consumers love it for its convenience. According to a survey conducted by Progressive Grocer and RIS News, 44% of consumers prefer the self-checkout process to traditional checkout. This means many California shoppers — nearly half — would be deeply disappointed if the state chose to stymie the self-checkout option.

Smallwood-Cuevas and supportive advocates claim to be doing all this to combat retail theft, but it’s worth noting that the effort is not supported by retailers, police or the California District Attorneys Association — the three groups currently leading conversations with Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislative leaders to tackle retail theft.

How does SB 1446 propose to deter retail theft? By dictating to grocers where they should position their store employees — one worker per every two kiosks — so that they can hover over customers and goal tend against would-be thieves. This concept would only increase the potential for violent incidents as it seeks to turn store employees into security guards and the 10 items-or-less police.

These types of confrontations between thieves and store team members are the exact opposite of what’s needed. In fact, most grocers do not even allow store employees to confront thieves, instead leaving security work to asset protection professionals who are properly trained to handle such situations.

Instead of working to make the retail experience safer and more convenient for Californians, SB 1446 merely attempts to reach further into business operations and wrest control away from business owners in the name of preventing the very thing keeping them up at night: retail theft. But under SB 1446, both shoppers and retailers lose.

California legislators should reject this cynical and impractical approach, and focus on the retail theft package already supported by statewide leaders.

Ronald Fong is the California Grocers Association president and CEO.