Identify with how shoppers feel

November 15, 2011

Retailers that relate to how shoppers think and behave in their stores can better judge their intent.

Do supermarket security guards know what hunger pangs feel like to a woman who is eight months pregnant? Can they relate to the stress moms feel when food shopping with their young children? Were they trained to understand that wheeling a cart through a crowded store, making snap buying decisions for an entire household, and then lugging goods home is possibly her least favorite way to spend time?

If so, an unfortunate incident that took place in a Honolulu Safeway would have likely unfolded differently.

Local media reports indicated that a mom and dad shopping with their two-year-old daughter ate a $5 sandwich in the store and didn’t pay for it at checkout. One account said the mom tried to pay at the deli, but no one was there. Another suggested that they held the wrapper as a reminder to pay, but forgot. Instead of allowing them to pay, as the mom offered to do, the store manager called police, the couple were arrested and the toddler taken by Child Protective Services overnight.

Shortly after, Safeway posted this message on its Facebook page: “At Safeway, we're committed to serving families. From our preliminary investigation, it appears we may not have handled this matter in the best possible way. We are taking this situation seriously and giving it our full attention. We will continue to work with HPD as they complete their investigation.” The chain later dropped the theft charges and apologized.

This situation, we feel at The Lempert Report, could have happened just about anywhere. So we suggest all chains implore their managers and security teams to exercise human judgment and place themselves in the shoes of shoppers who appear to be guilty of oversight, not theft. Will it take more training to balance the need to protect assets with human imperfections? Perhaps. We urge stores to bar no effort against professional sweeps, but when shoppers make a simple mistake, have a heart.