Monday, June 28, 2010

Cruel, unusual and effective?

In our assessments within retail stores, we often see the actions of shoplifters through our video cameras. Though shoplifting is not typically on the list of behaviors we look to capture and code (we only half-kiddingly say our cameras are placed for the business purposes of good - like pinpointing barriers to the sale and identifying new opportunities to increase performance and the customer experience), it’s an activity that is impossible to ignore. These shrinkage incidents have become so prevalent, in fact, that we’ve developed an expertise in the observable assessment of how dishonest people behave when they’re in a retail environment—often in interesting ways that suggest an earnest attempt to look honest. This is, of course, its own tell.

The old rule of thumb that potential shoplifters get spooked when approached by an associate (unwilling to look them in the eye, for example) stays true — but not always. We’ve seen a new breed of brazen behavior that almost reads as sociopathic: chatty, superficially charming customers who show no fear in front of associates, almost “selling” themselves as a way to throw off the scent or any hint of wrongdoing, like they’re just that jovial long-lost friend coming across the lease line.

But if certain stores have their way, even these wily coyotes might take up another hobby. The New York Times reported yesterday that a number of stores in the region which cater to Chinese immigrants are now adopting shoplifting procedures borrowed from mainland China retailers. Essentially, if you’re caught, the stores seize your identity cards, and you pay the retailer a steep fine (up to hundreds of dollars) in return for getting your cards back and to insure your picture does not get displayed on a prominent wall of shame for all to see. While there are a host of civil liberty issues at play with these tactics (it would be hard to imagine chain stores playing this style of hard ball), it will be interesting to see if retailers do adopt more aggressive approaches to the problem.
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