I love Wal-Mart Supercenter. I love the convenience of buying all my necessities at one place. However, a recent humiliating calamity has caused me to question my devotion to the merchandising monopoly.
Three weeks ago, a sales associate paraded me around the store and escorted me to the front cashier like I was a common criminal. My crime? Wanting to buy an eighteen-dollar bottle of perfume.
Wal-Mart’s new policy requires a sales associate to retrieve perfume from a locked case and to escort the exasperated customer to the cashier’s counter. The policy supposedly reduces the occurrence of shoplifting. Although the plan seems necessary and proper, its method raises questions. For example, the locked case houses perfumes priced from six to thirty dollars. Meanwhile, across the aisle resides mascara and lipsticks priced from a dollar fifty to ten dollars. These cosmetics lie openly on a shelf.
I’ve never shoplifted, and I never intend to shoplift. However, shoplifting must be logically considered. If a person wants to shoplift, what would be easier to sneak: a slender cylinder of mascara or lipstick that fits perfectly in a pocket or purse or a square box of perfume?
The perfume should not suffer discrimination; all cosmetics should be encased. Why not encase every item in the store? Although encasing every item would seem impractical, Wal-Mart could use two indiscriminate methods. One requires the store to revert to the “good ole days.” The other requires the store to take a giant leap into modern technology.
The first method suggestions Wal-Mart revert to the “good ole days” of the general store. In the Wal-Mart General Store, a line of cashiers’ counters greets the customers as they enter the store through the one main entrance. The roughhewn counters bar the customers from the infinite rows of shelves behind the cashiers. Instead of grabbing a cart and going about their business, customers gingerly walk to the counters and hand the smiling cashiers their lists. The cashiers proceed to find the listed items on the shelves. If the shelves fail to produce the desired items, the cashiers search the stock room in the back of the store.
Meanwhile, the customers relax in plush chairs lining the right and left walls. They help themselves to the refreshments on tables near the chairs. This new Wal-Mart stresses customer service. The cashiers wait on the valued customers hand and foot. Customer satisfaction skyrockets. Shoplifting plummets.
This method, however, poses problems. Service will be based on a first come, first served basis. The number of customers will decrease because the harried cashiers will be unable to keep up with customers’ demands. Shoplifting will disappear and take business along with it.
The second method requires Wal-Mart to advance into the world of modern technology. In Wal-Mart Technocenter, employees greet customers as they enter through one of the many entrances and give them robot escorts. The robots follow customers throughout the store. The robots’ eyes contain hidden cameras that send images of the customers to computers installed in the stock room. A group of specially trained officers watches the computers. If customers appear to shoplift, the officers immediately find the customers and take them to the stock room for interrogation.
When customers complete their shopping, they return the robots to the employees at the entrances.
This method adequately reduces shoplifting, but creates other problems. Aside from being expensive, the method annihilates customers’ privacy. Customers will refuse to ship in a place where security scrutinizes their every move.
Wal-Mart must deal with shoplifting in a way that benefits them as well as the customers but escorting perfume-buying customers to the cashier’s counter is neither beneficial nor courteous. Moreover, it humiliates the customer.
As for me, I will continue to buy perfume at Wal-Mart because it alone carries the brand I prefer. However, the next time I need to purchase perfume, I will dress for the occasion. I will don black pants, a black shirt, and a black ski mask. Maybe then I’ll receive the respect I deserve.