Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Customer is Not Presumed Innocent

I heard the story about the guy who took the sticker off of a low priced item, stuck it on the box for a flat screen TV, and went through self check out. So, I understand that these things do happen. And most, when caught will say it was accidental. And I do recognize that stores lose giant amounts of merchandise each year to shoplifting and retail shrinking (getting a lower price incorrectly).
And I understand that often the big box stores maintain those low, low prices by not carrying a lot of staff to assist customers, monitor them, or keep the stock in order.
My mother and I were shopping in a discount store and we were looking at golf bags, since she wanted to buy one for my brother. We noticed that one of the golf bags had been marked (by the store - this was an attached price tag) at a lower price than the others. So understandably, we bought that one. When the cashier rang it up, he was surprised and called for a price check. My mother politely pointed out that the price was marked clearly on the item. The cashier called for a manager. The manager looked at the price tag, agreed that that was how it had been marked, and had the cashier ring it up at that price. He also, very nicely, asked us if we had noticed any other bags marked with that price. (We had not.)
Errors happen. Things end up mis-marked, or in the wrong box or what have you. But, it seems to me the solution is to assume that while the customer wants a great deal, the customer is not necessarily trying to screw over the store.
This is why I am so saddened to read the story of the Wall Street Journal editor who was detained in Kmart after she placed a pair of flip flops in the wrong box. Now, I understand that by placing the flip flops in the box, it gave the appearance of retail shrinkage. And, the store didn't break any laws and apparently acted within its standards. But, it would seem to me that for a scenario where we are detaining someone who just bought $800 worth of stuff, that for the $8 difference it might be worthwhile to assume human error. But maybe I am naive. Perhaps they assume that the $8 of retail shrinkage is part of a pattern of behavior and that they are better off losing this customer (since they told her never to return) than taking the risk.
I think perhaps if the shelves were not so often in disarray, then it would be easier to spot customers who really are trying to ticket switch, but I guess it costs less money to get rid of your current customers than to hire more staff.