Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Grocery Store Artifact: Of shopping lists and shoplifters

Here are some shopping lists I found scattered about the store. You'd think anyone who could afford to shop here would have the home-training to pick up after themselves. Some of these are cute, some hopeful and others are just humorously revealing...like the list with WINE in large letters.

The three shopping lists I have collected below are scrawled on the back of business cards I find after we have a certain customer visit the store. Since I am not sure he is the same person who is named on the front of the cards or if he just has access to a large supply of them (like a customer would who pick them up at, say, a bank or car dealership) I am not showing the front. I also censored the phone number of 'Jennifer' (who is presumably not a part of our visitor's activities) before posting it so no one harrasses her with calls.

What is interesting about these shopping lists are that they are always dropped by a serial shoplifter on his way out of the store. The items on his shopping lists are what he steals. So he is planning his thefts ahead of time and is not stealing under some spur of the moment impulse.This particular character is an older gentleman whom the staff has nicknamed The Cigarette - DVD Guy. He got this nickname because of his trick of getting cigarettes from customer service (they remain secured to prevent minors buying them) stating he'll pay for them at the check-out line after he does some more shopping. We quickly caught on that he wasn't giving the cashier the cigarettes when he checked out and instead was pocketing them. Unfortunately he succeeded in tricking the staff for quite a while doing this as he always got his cigarettes from different people. Since each person would not see him for days or weeks it took a while to notice the pattern. Once the staff got wise to that trick he started stealing DVD's and over-the-counter medicines. He recently bought a few small items, went outside and then loaded three bundles of firewood (which is stored outside adjacent to the propane tanks and the like) into his car before departing without paying for them.

Shoplifters that operate like he does are hard to bust. Also, in the zeal to provide good customer service store employees are required to be non-confrontational. Shoplifters get away with alot because it isn't worth the risk to an employee who may confront a crazy person. One problem in confronting an alleged shoplifter is that if you don't personally witness it you can't act on it, and the staff-member who reported it may be a dumb-ass, and I'm not risking an innocent person being detained or my job on the word of a dumb-ass. Usually, when a shoplifter knows they are about to be apprehended or are being watched they will discard the items they intend to steal or play "stupid" about it, pretending they "forgot" they had the items. Police are slow in coming to arrest small-time thieves since they have to prioritize their responses. There are bigger problems out there for the Police to take care of and a $14.95 box of cold medicine isn't high on their list of things to respond to, and understandably so. Also, possible nuisance lawsuits and counter-accusations from the accused are a pain to deal with and they are quite common as a way of complicating the issue.

About 4 weeks ago I finally got weary of DVD Guy's shennanigans and the last time he came in I had the staff all over him like a psychic on a rich widow. We try to keep on eye on our regular visiting sneaky-types in order to discourage them stealing but while following one person you get constant calls for assistance from several other departments and you have to help customers along the way, all the while trying to watch your alleged perp and remaining casual about it. That moment of distraction is what the thieves wait for and they then grab and run/walk from the store with product they did not pay for.

This time, however, we remained dedicated to our thieving scum. One of the staff watched him put some medicine in his pocket and several of us followed closely, purposely letting him be aware that we were watching him. I was also being obvious in posting employees on the exit doors. He got nervous and ran around the ailses trying to unload the items he had secreted about himself. He also left the check-out line several times under the pretense of forgetting to get something, undoubtedly because one of the staff stood nearby watching what he purchased. It was fun to watch him power-walk around the store trying to get out of sight long enough to dispose of his ill-gotten booty or place it in his hand-basket. When we hung back a bit so he could get a moment to enter an aisle he would then appear with an item in his basket that wasn't therea few seconds before and that wasn't shelved in that area. It's obvious he was taking them from a pocket and placing it in his basket. He eventually managed to check out with his purchases and we are sure he didn't manage to steal anything that time. I believe he was so shaken at the prospect of an arrest that he hasn't been back since that night.

What is odd about the DVD Guy is that all involved parties know what is going on. We know he steals... and he is aware that we know it. Dropping a calling card at the scene is not very smart, either. If the cards are indeed his (or are from someplace he frequents) then he must want to get caught.

Also interesting is that the items on his shopping lists are what he steals from the store. So he is planning his thefts ahead of time and is not stealing under some spur of the moment impulse.

If he ever does return I'm stopping him and banning him from the store. I know he won't kick a fuss. We know the cars he drives and their plate numbers, we have the videos of his acts archived. I am actually looking forwards to him showing up again since I keep one of his dropped cards in my wallet at all times. If/when I see him again, I'm going to call the number that is on the face of the business card and see if the cellphone on his belt rings. That would be cool.

"Hey...yeah. Is this [Name Censored]? How are you doing today?"
"Uhhh...I'm fine. Who is this?"
"The Store Manager. Right behind you." Waves and smiles. "Get out of the store and don't return, please. Thanks."

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