While shopping at Wal-Mart the other day, evil mega-conglomerate that it is, we picked up several items, both big and small. In the process of checking out, Bob turned the two larger items so the clerk could scan them without removing them from the cart. Items bagged and paid for, we proceeded to the car, whereupon we realized that one small bottle of calamine lotion had been hiding under the bathroom tissue and hadn’t been scanned. Without much comment, Bob turned around and took the item back into the store to tell the clerk we hadn’t paid for it. After laughing and saying she couldn’t believe he came back for that, he paid for it and left.
What kind of sad commentary is this on our sense of honesty? Not only do some of the customers think it is okay to walk out with unpaid items, even the store employees now see it as no big deal.
Shopping lifting, or an honest mistake like ours, gone unrectified, costs businesses money; they in turn, raise prices to cover the cost of lost revenue. According to some experts, the average family spends $300 a year more to subsidize the cost of what shoplifters steal. Higher prices mean customers may not support that business, impacting the store’s ability to stay in business.
It’s easy to say Wal-Mart, and similar large chain stores, can afford it when an item is stolen. Suppose their profit margin is 10 percent, only an example on my part. For every $2 that is shoplifted or slips through the check-out, they have to sell $20 in merchandise to make up for that loss. “Grocery stores typically operate with only a 1 percent profit margin. If someone steals a $7 steak, the store must sell goods worth $700 to recover the loss,” according to an article from Rutgers University. Seven hundred dollars is perhaps two or more week’s pay for a store employee. How long before stores start laying off workers to help defray the cost of these unpaid items?
When did we become so complacent about stealing? Back when the “mom and pop” stores were the norm it was just common sense that you didn’t shoplift from them. You knew these owners. They were your neighbors or belonged to your church, and you knew they would suffer from the lost income. How many of us as kids took something from the store and when our parents found out, were made to return it with full apology? Honesty was a part of our upbringing. Has that really gone by the wayside?
Shoplifting has become a cost of doing business. Stores plan for a certain percentage of loss. That should disturb all of us. It costs the stores and it costs us as consumers not only in higher prices, but in loss of integrity and loss of credibility to our children. So in answer to the young lady at the checkout — yes, we returned for just that small item. Your job could depend on it.