Sunday, March 18, 2007

Stolen things

Speaking strictly as someone who has minor kleptomaniac tendencies (although I’ve never, ever shoplifted or actually STOLEN anything actually worth anything – my tastes run to office supplies!), I think Wal-Mart’s “Loss Prevention” and “Asset Protection” strategies are among the worst in the business.

The store I work loses something like $125,000 per month to shrink (theft). Which makes what I found in the bathroom Saturday night not so shocking.

Four empty plastic boxes for memory cards and 1G zip drives were stuffed into the container for toilet seat covers. Sigh.

One of the worst decisions Wal-Mart ever made was taking away the security pedestals from Electronics and making that section accessible from all sides instead of having a single entry and exit point with its own security and “Pay for Electronics Merchandise in Electronics” policy.

Once a CD, DVD or anything else small leaves Electronics, there’s probably a 25% chance it’s going to be stolen. We find stacks of the cases all around the store. Every morning when I open the Service Desk at 7 a.m., I just label a box “SHRINK” and start filling it with the stolen stuff. It’s usually full by 9 a.m. -- if not sooner!

Our store lost both “Loss Protection” associates – the ones who follow shoplifters around – 11 months ago. Neither was ever replaced. The official reason is that Wal-Mart feels that sales associates should be able to adequately prevent theft and in the process IMPROVE customer service by being more aggressive in their interaction with customers.

Uh huh. Yeah. None of our salesgirls speak English. The only thing in the store they can find is the employee lounge, their cell phone and the door on the way home.

The real reason is that it is much cheaper to mark down the stolen merchandise and claim it on insurance than pay the salary for two employees, plus pay the insurance policy in case they injure someone in a takedown – and then the prosecution costs – and paperwork costs – and costs of having a district and regional Loss Prevention supervisor. It’s not about “customer service” – it’s about the money.


Anonymous said...

I completely agree with what you wrote.

I worked at many a retail place where the aggressive customer service theory was the rule.

In theory, it's a good idea. Better service, and better loss prevention.

In practice, not so much. Too much to keep an eye on.

Keep preachin' the truth.

yellowdog granny said...

hmmm, maybe i will go 'shopping' at wal-mart again...

The Crutnacker said...

DOes that work anymore?

First, if you're not happy working there, do you really care if people steal?

Second, if you've made up your mind to steal, is agressive customer service going to do anything except make you go somewhere that isn't currently being aggressive?

Third, have the people who actually instituted this policy visited a Wal-Mart? With one shocking exception a few weeks ago, I've not had anyone treat me with any real service in years.

Wal Mart is spending lots of money polishing a turd. Until they improve the people that work there AND do something to improve the people that shop there, they will lose their more affluent customers to other places.

It sounds like a simple way of doing this would be to tighten up security, be aggressive in loss prevention, and tighten the return policy. With all three you could reduce the number of low lifes that make me want to bathe after I make one of my infrequent visits to Wal-Mart.

I wonder how much further down Sam Walton is buried these days from all the spinning he's been doing in his grave.

Anonymous said...

at my local wal-mart about 10 years ago they had a 50 gallon fish tank full of water and coins. It was for some charity/contest/drawing or something like that. one day, the entire thing disappeared. how does a 200+ lb fish tank get stolen in the middle of wal-mart? When the playstation 2 had just been released, 20 of them disappeared overnight one night. 20. Wal-mart loss prevention is, and always has been a joke.

Anonymous said...

What really cracks me up about this whole thing is at my Wal-Mart they tell us all the time to just follow them around, it will deter them. Not when they know that we can’t say or do anything to them. NOTHING. I can give them dirty looks all I want but I can’t walk up and tell them to knock it off. IT would be even better if Management actually came when you called them to tell them of a large theft. But what do us peon Wal-Mart Associates know?

another wal-mart associate.

Anonymous said...

As for the "affluent Customers" they shop at WalMart and the Dollar General more than Sak's. I see it all the time. 200 pound fishtank full of coins and water is an easy steal. I worked for an outlet store where computers, T.V.s, rear loading forklifts etc. disappear......If someone wants it bad enough they will get it :)

Anonymous said...

In a rare trip to WM some weeks ago, my husband was looking at some tools and multiple boxes were totally empty. The product(s) had been removed and the boxes left. Around 3 shelves of stuff with empty boxes. How does that happen?

And for the record, Wal-Mart isn't after the high-end customer. They made a mistake in that department when they forayed into a 'higher-end' clothing line that tanked. You must be thinking of Target, who is trying to pull in that Saks and Macy's crowd and has admited that for quite some time. Wal-Mart wants to serve the bottom of the barrel and any attempts to serve higher clientel have failed miserably.

Anonymous said...

Its interesting to me hearing all these high dollar thefts going uncaught and ignored.

Locally the niece of a friend was caught stealing about $5 dollars worth of cosmectics and was prosecuted.

FARfetched said...

qI suppose shrink is a cost of doing business, at least in retail. As much as I despise Wal-Mart, I really can't knock the reasoning here: if the costs of shrink prevention exceed the costs of shrink without it, then letting the shoplifters run rampant is just a business decision.

The loss prevention folks will be replaced when one of the following happen: 1) The monthly shrink costs cross a line; 2) Bentonville starts pressuring the management to Do Something.

Anonymous said...

Great blog! I, too, work in a "big box" store (nowhere near as big as Walmart, but a national chain). Our store has recently been targeted for near-constant LP audits. We (the associates) are forced to listen to hours of mind-numbing drivel about how "great Guest Service means less loss!" during our mandatory store meetings, but management never backs us up when we do find someone stealing.

Examples: customer approaches the customer service desk with $400 of purchases and wants to pay via credit card. I ask for ID. She hands me an ID that doesn't match (neither first nor last name) the name on the card. I call a manager. Manager swipes card, apologizes to customer, and informs me that we aren't allowed to ask for ID anymore 'cause it offends some customers. Heaven forbid we offend credit card thieves!

Later that day, another associate and I saw a customer putting high-dollar items in her purse. We grabbed another associate and sent her to get a manager, as we aren't allowed to say something like, "Do you want to pay for that?" (poor customer service again, apparently). Manager refused to come (too busy talking to girlfriend). Customer/thief then (after leaving the store with merchandise) calls and complains to manager that the other associate "made her feel uncomfortable by following her too closely." Yes, you read that correctly: this "customer" got away with a few hundred bucks worth of merchandise and then had the nerve to call and complain to a manager that she was followed too closely!

Oh, and yes--the other associate got written up for "poor customer service."

Anonymous said...

To anon directly above...what the hell store do you work for?

Apparently, they hire the imbeciles that Walmart deems unemployable!

Anonymous said...

let it go.

Look, It's not your money. Don't cry that it 'really is' because you work where the stuff is stolen. It's still not your money unless you're the one signing the paychecks.

Just get over it. The numbers have been 'crunched' and your amazement as to what gets stolen means nothing.

Concentrate on people who are, to your amazement, actually buying things legally.

Don't question the way things are done. You're there to do as you're told.

You think you're smarter than the people who sign your paycheck? If you do, start your own business and start signing paychecks.

Until then, don't get written up for bugging customers.

Sam's Girl said...

Anon above,

"Don't question the way things are done. You're there to do as you're told"????

You must be a manager somewhere (or a big butt-kisser who has no chance of moving up) because your logic is skewed. The person who you said "bugged" the customer was following directions. They were told to be aggressive and help limit loss.

I don't know about that person's store but at the Sam's club where I work, sales associates are held liable for shrink in their department which does affect raises and upward mobility.

For all I know, you could be the imbecile of a customer who ran me through the wringer for saying I could not remove the sales tax without manager approval (who did I think I was to question him - maybe you - when told that the $800 diamond ring was for resale in a convenience store). By the way, my manager's have common sense enough to tell the customer we would not help him steal from the government.

sara said...

I wrote about this very issue here. I'd love it if you could comment.

My observations seem naive as I don't actually work in Wal*Mart, but I'm curious if you could build on my thoughts for potential solutions.

Thanks and keep writing a great blog!

Sarah said...

I knew someone who was a loss prevention person at Walmart - he was moved to stocking about 3 months ago, because the store decided they didn't need loss prevention anymore.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I was one of those LP's who lost their jobs...I was pissed. I was hired about 9 months before the "changes". They knew these were going to happen, and hired a bunch of us anyway...and then we got let go months later.
Let the associates handle it...let them use "aggressive customer service". They can't DO anything to someone who is stealing. OK, I am stopping before this become an huge rant :-) WICKED DUMB IDEA WALMART

Anonymous said...

i find the whole policy on stealing to be the stupidest thing i have ever heard. when they first told me that if it is suspected that someone is stealing, to use aggressive hospitality (aka overly nice). i looked at the lady and actually said "are you out of your mind?". and then they say "oh you have to actually see them steal it and then just follow them around and get a manager". no offence, but last time i checked, following was on a stalkers to do list.