Chris Simpson

Semper letteris mandate

The first rule of Exit-Checker Club is…

Recently WalMart and other Big Box stores instituted a policy of checking receipts against merchandise as shoppers leave the stores. Some feel this to be a blatant accusation of shop-lifting while others say it is a necessary tactic to guard against theft. One thing is for sure, nobody in charge is willing to discuss the practice.

BY CHRIS SIMPSON

Walmart_exteriorAre exit checkers an unfortunate, but necessary tactic to guard against shoplifting or a useless gesture that serves little purpose other than to make customers feel like suspects as they’re leaving the store?

One thing is for sure – there are few officials who want to talk about it.

The WalMart media relations department promises a response time of 24 hours, yet three or four days later they still haven’t answered a request for information about their receipt checkers or the effectiveness of the tactic. Nor were phone calls any more effective. “I’ll get back to you,” growled one WalMart manager, but never did.

The practice has proven contentious ever since it was first put in place a few years ago, with many customers feeling that it represents a “guilty until proven innocent” mindset.

The Consumerist, an online consumer advocate magazine, has examined this issue numerous times in the past, mostly in a negative light. One retail worker, however, who wished to remain anonymous, wrote in to defend the practice.

“There is an implicit assumption that when a greeter asks to see your receipt that he is accusing you of theft. The actuality is that we are using your cooperation as a vaccination. The simple act of asking to see receipts on high-valued products stops a huge portion of thieves from even trying brazen thefts at our store. I’ve never caught anyone trying to walk out with a television that they never paid for by checking receipts. I am sincere in my belief that if I did not check them, people would try it.”

Of course a “sincere” belief that it works is no match for statistics showing that the practice of checking receipts helps prevent shoplifting – unfortunately, such statistics are almost impossible to come by.

Not that there aren’t plenty of statistics concerning the seriousness of shoplifting.

According to the Retail Council of Canada’s “Canadian Retail Survey 2007,” Canadian retailers lose $3.6 billion a year in “retail crime.” While that’s a lot of theft, the sad fact is that fully 33 per cent of it is being done by employees, according to a 2012 survey by PWC and Retail Council of Canada.

“If you compare a dishonest employee to a typical shoplifter,” says Paul Beaumont, Canadian leader of retail consulting at PWC, “the employee is far more harmful to the organization. Dishonest employees go to the same place every day and the more they learn about the business, the more familiar they become with the tools that the loss prevention department employs. Ultimately they become more effective in being able to steal.”

And according to Jack L. Hayes International Inc. (a private U.S. loss-prevention and security provider’s annual retail theft survey), “On a per case average, dishonest employees steal a little over 7 times the amount stolen by shoplifters ($969.14 versus $135.81).”

It seems highly unlikely that checking receipts as customers exit is doing anything to prevent this type of shoplifting.

Many stores justify the procedure by claiming that big-ticket items, such as TVs, should be checked because there is no easy way to tell whether the customer bought it or is just walking out of the store with it. While this may be true, receipt checkers are stopping everyone, not just those carrying out large, unbagged merchandise. Furthermore, it isn’t large apparatuses that make up the majority of shoplifted items.  The Global Theft Barometer-Center for Retail Research reported in 2008 that the most shoplifted items were:

  1. Razor blades (Gillette)
  2. Alcohol (branded spirits)
  3. Toiletries, cosmetics and fine fragrances
  4. Clothing and lingerie
  5. Batteries (Duracell)
  6. DVDs, CDs (rap and dance) and computer games
  7. Pills, vitamins, contraceptives and pregnancy testers.
  8. Electric toothbrushes, Braun gas cylinders
  9. Instant coffee
  10. Steak and packs of meat

These are all items that can be neatly smuggled out of a store with little fuss. The question is, how does installing a receipt checker at the door stop this kind of theft? If the shoplifters are taking the items, going to the checkout counter, paying for several other items and slipping the stolen merchandise into the bag, then yes, it is conceivable that a receipt checker might discover the theft.

The problem is that most shoplifters, having already stashed the stolen item on their person are highly unlikely to then place it in the bag with the merchandise they’ve legitimately paid for. And a large number are simply pocketing their treasures and walking out without buying anything.

The fact is, common sense makes it difficult to conceive how having a receipt checker stop customers a few yards from the checkout counters is doing anything other than implying they’re thieves. It certainly isn’t stopping the 33 per cent of theft committed by employees, and it’s doing nothing to stop those who simply pocket an item and walk out, or even those who pocket an item and then buy a few others – unless of course that person is foolish enough to put the stolen item in the bag before leaving the store.

But perhaps common sense is wrong in this case. Perhaps there has been a drastic reduction in shoplifting since the introduction of receipt checkers. Without some kind of supporting data, however, it seems dubious.

It would be nice if an appropriate authority were to give us such supporting data. Unfortunately, the first rule of Exit-Checker Club would appear to be that you don’t talk about Exit-Checker Club.

Originally published in The Gull Lake Advance, Jan. 22, 2013

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