December 25, 2012

Stop Them With A Smile

This weekend, parents, friends, and lovers finished up their Christmas shopping. It was like a hurricane—massive winds of consumers, displays strewn all over the place, clothes in piles in dressing rooms, and even broken glass and goods. Then came the looters. Yep, that’s right. Even during the supposed season of goodness, theft happens. On NPR’s Weekend Edition, contributor Curt Nickisch wrote about a particular type of theft: self-checkout thieves.

Self-checkouts are popping up everywhere—at grocery stores, big box stores, even some clothing and specialty stores. The idea was to give shoppers an option to bag and checkout themselves. Seems good, right? The company potentially saves money by having to hire fewer cashiers while shoppers have the ability to checkout by themselves. Of course, most stores with self-checkout have an employee to help and watch, but the majority of the time, shoppers checkout their own purchases with little interaction from store staff.

Here comes the rub; some consumers take advantage of this and steal from these self-checkout stations. As I began reading this report, all I could wonder is how people managed this. Luckily, NPR came to the rescue. Apparently, shoplifters have a couple of tactics at the self-checkout. One is to simply not scan an item and just walk out with it. This is risky because at the self-checkout, shoppers scan an item and then put it on the weight machine to ensure that the weight matches the item. If one simply does not scan an item, one has to manage to put it in the bag or cover it with bags before store employees notice the malfeasance.

The second tactic is to scan an item of equal weight at a lower price. For an example, the NPR report used one liter of vinegar and one liter of vodka. Vinegar is a couple of dollars while vodka is ten to twenty times the price of vinegar. Thus, shoplifters scan the vinegar, but put the vodka on the scale.

And when shoplifters are caught, they have easy excuses like:

“Oh, I didn’t mean to miss that.”

“The machine was beeping at me and I got confused.”

“Sorry. I just forgot that was in my basket.”

Not that any store buys these, but they make for an easy out once a shoplifting customer is discovered.

Companies have caught onto all of these and are working out ways to combat them. For some companies, the simple answer is to remove the self-checkout. But others are taking another approach, one that I think is brilliant. This other answer is called aggressive hospitality. So, when the store clerk watching the self-checkout stations notices or even suspects that a consumer hasn’t paid for all their items, the clerk walks over and with a big smile offers assistance at the station.

Who’s going to deny help from a smiling face? The smile kills with kindness. Instead of going to the defense, potential shoplifters allow the “help” even though they are not then able to steal the items. This aggressive hospitality is face-saving for the shoplifters as well. Instead of dealing with the accusation, thieving customers simply have no choice because the store employee is being so kind. Brilliant.

Naturally, it would be nice if stores could just be nice without an ulterior motive, but that’s not the case. People steal for whatever reasons especially from self-checkout stations. Now, though, stores are hip on what’s happening and doing their best to prevent it…all with a simple smile.

Image Credit: photomak / Shutterstock

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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