Friday, August 28, 2009


I made a quick trip into the CVS near my house last week to buy two ridiculously overpriced Sprites on my way home. As I grabbed them out of the cooler by the register and stepped into line, I thought I saw the guy checking out in front of me palm a little pill keeper keychain. I stood there for a moment second guessing myself as he walked out the front door and got into the passenger side of the gleaming white Mercedes that was illegally parked in the handicapped spot closest to the door. I had noticed the car there as I walked in, taking in the shiny, entitled-looking, twenty something driver and thinking the scene was a little sketchy at the time.

My nickname at work is "Worst Case Scenario Mary" because my brain will automatically generate the worst possible outcome for any given scenario. We laugh about it, and it's actually beneficial to my job, but in the rest of life it's more than a little taxing mentally. I was definitely living up to the nickname as I quickly scanned the register area through the glass doors before walking in, just to make sure a holdup wasn't in progress. Everything passed my mental checklist so I went on about my business. I've actually been known to just turn around and leave a gas station, store, whatever, if I got a bad vibe. I can't turn the radar off, so sometimes I just have to listen to it.

After the guy walked out, my mind was reeling with "what to do" as I tried to intelligently answer the checker's questions about my day and my CVS card. My brain was on overload and when he asked if I wanted a bag I looked at him blankly, paused, and then said "Oh...bag. Yes. Bag." It was a very intelligent moment. He probably thought I was high. I finally shook off the fog and I asked him if the guy in front of me had paid for one of the keychains on the counter, which of course, he hadn't. I told him that I had seen him take one and offered to pay for it for him - I felt like that was the least I could do since I stood there dumbly and watched it all happen. The checker thanked me and said that wasn't necessary. He said that unfortunately that type of thing was built into cost and he'd be sure to report it as a loss. I felt terrible though and wished I had said something. It happened really quickly, and I just totally froze in the moment. I know it was just a $4.99 keychain, but stuff like that fires me up. I mean, who are you to take something that isn't yours and walk out like you're a bad-A? And on top of that, maybe my Sprite wouldn't cost so much if people stopped stealing them.

I was watching some reality show about female policewomen later on that evening and they busted a guy for selling $1600 of crack. He claimed he didn't do it, until they told him the guy he'd just made the sale to was an undercover cop and it was all on tape. As they put him in the car the policewoman turned to him and said "That's what happens when you get cocky", and I immediately replied to the TV, "No, that's what happens when you sell crack, moron". But thinking about it today, there's some truth to the cocky thing. You get away with stealing $4.99 keychains long enough and I imagine you move on to bigger things, and eventually you probably do get caught because you were cocky enough to think you're that good. It's a safe bet that $1600 of crack was not that guy's first sale.

So what would you have done in my position? Would you call the guy out in front of a line of people when you only had a split second to determine what was happening? Now I wish I had, but hindsight is always a little easier. I'm interested to hear some feedback on this one.


  1. This is a tough call, but I think I may have said, Hey Sir, I think you forgot to pay for that...
    I actually had a stealing incident happen to me last week- I saw a little girl at Homegoods putting some merchandise in her purse- so the "teacher" in me HAD to redirect her behavior and I said, litttle girl you need to put that back on the shelf- she looked at me, then looked away, then back at me to see if I was still there...she took the item out of her purse, and walked away- I'm sure she stole something else in the store, but I thought we'll hopefully she will remember a strange woman saying something to her and it will be a "teaching moment" for her...who knows, really?

  2. Nope, I wouldn't say anything to the guy and in that situation I wouldn't have bothered mentioning it to the cashier. If I saw someone in a back aisle somewhere stuffing something down their pants I'd probably find someone who worked there and tell them, but in many businesses the staff are told not to confront thieves. I know the companies I've worked for have had a policy that said confronting a thief was optional, because it could be dangerous to confront someone who's already breaking the law. In some cases the police could be called and they could intercept the thief before they left the store if there was time for that.

    From the accounting side I can tell you that theft is absolutely factored in. It's a cost of doing business. I think we expected 5% "shrink" (inventory that disappears) at the last place I worked. I guess in the grand scheme of things it does affect the cost of your Sprite and everything else, but my experience working with a buyer tells me they always expect to get a certain profit margin on certain types of goods, because there's a threshold for what customers will pay for everything. The margin would maybe be a bit lower if no one in the world had ever stolen anything, but every stolen keychain isn't going to raise the profit margin higher than it is now. If a particular store has a terrible problem with theft then the store's going to look at better security as a way to combat that, rather than just accepting an ever-increasing shrink figure that they would then pass on to their customers.

  3. We always think of things to say after the fact. But if it had been me and I had been on my toes I might have said."Hey I really like those key chains too;what color did you get? Can you hand me a red one?"