Cynical Synapse

Wed, 12 Sep 2007

Harass Customers—Makes Them Feel Better

Filed under: Behavior, Oppression, People, Rants — cynicalsynapse @ 10:53 pm

Maybe it’s a moon phase or something—there seems to be a lot of this going around lately. I’m talking about stores treating their customers like dishonest low-lifes in an effort to make somebody (who? the customers? the management?) feel they’ve got effective anti-shoplifting practices in place.

I don’t shop at Sam’s Club like Kavajuice did. And I haven’t experienced this at Circuit City like Michael Righi. But it is a common practice at Best Buy in my area. And I got almost as upset about it at Lowe’s last Thursday as Mr. Righi. Instead of declining, I asked why, then asked for the manager, and then shot of an email telling Lowe’s corporate what I thought of their short-sighted policy.

Without looking to see what the law actually says, I do know that retailers are not held to the same standards of probable cause that police officers are. But I seriously doubt simply being a customer constitutes enough reason to be suspected of retail fraud. In essence, that’s the message the store is sending by checking your receipt—”we think you stole something, so prove us wrong.” Where’s the harm in that, you wonder? That’s what the first two commenters Mr. Righi cites seem to feel. If you’re okay with that, then by all means continue to patronize those businesses.

In my mind, there are two fallacies with this. First, retail fraud (the fancy term for shoplifting and employee theft) accounts for only 1.61 percent of sales. Some stores ask every customer to show their receipt. Such a dragnet scoops up the non-criminal 98.39% of shoppers in addition to the guilty ones, assuming the shoplifters also went through the checkout. Here’s the other question in my mind: is the person looking at your receipt really checking to ensure what you have in hand is listed on the receipt? If not, what’s the point because the bag might include stolen goods anyway.

I applaud Mr. Righi for questioning ineffective polices and procedures that punish the rule-followers with an illusion of safety and security that actually accomplishes nothing. Kind of like the random checks they used to do just before boarding the plane. You know, the ones where more often than not the random person chosen was the little old lady. Kind of like we all have to take our shoes off even though there has only been one attempted shoe bomber. Kind of like when I took my kids to see the Liberty Bell in April 2002 and we had to go through a trailer to go through a metal detector; like the portable fair-ground style fencing would really keep a determined terrorist from assaulting the icon of freedom, but law-abiding citizens had to go through extra steps to see it.

Point is, none of those policies actually improve safety or security, but they make people think something’s being done. And nobody questions it. Except, apparently, Mr. Righi. And me. The employee at Lowe’s who watched me come through the U-scan under the watchful eye of two other employees told me they just randomly checked receipts. I guess there’s a big problem with fencing of stolen drain opener and compact florescent light bulbs, but I didn’t appreciate being stopped nor the answer I got, so I asked for the manager. Then I was told it was policy and maybe I was stopped because I didn’t have a bag (silly me for being able to carry my purchase and for not wanting to waste a plastic bag which actually saves Lowe’s that expense). Sorry, folks, that just doesn’t justify assuming your customers are thieves. Not when statistics show the problem is 1.61 percent. Home Depot’s right next door to the Lowe’s.

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