We’re not talking about George Costanza’s kind of shrinkage issues here, or what happens to our jeans after dessert. The first time I heard the term shrinkage was in 1970 when I was working in the cosmetics department at the Eaton’s College Street store in Toronto (shades of Are You Being Served?). When a young sales girl (we could call them that in those days) didn’t turn up for work at the adjacent jewelry counter one day, I was informed that she had been nabbed for helping herself to the store’s inventory of diamond rings.
Retail shrinkage is a problem that costs the economy billions of dollars in lost revenue every year. It has been commonly associated with employee theft but with the advent of self-checkout in so many stores these days, the scope of the problem is burgeoning.
Self-checkouts are no doubt a major part of the problem. At first I resisted using self-checkouts because I felt I was depriving a human being of a much-needed job. However, I was quickly won over by not having to unload all my groceries on to the conveyor belt, then reload them all again into my own bags. I resented the store no longer employing professional baggers—another misguided cost-cutting measure. Eventually, with self-checkout, I found I could get in and out much quicker and could scan most things without assistance once I learned how to weigh produce using the little code on the sticker.
My concerns about self-checkout were also alleviated when I saw store employees pushing carts of blue bins around the store doing the personal shopping for online customers. Those lost checkout jobs were now being repurposed which is a good thing because I’m a huge fan of online grocery shopping.
It must be tempting, though, if you’re someone less honest than most of us are, to simply by-pass the scanner with the odd sirloin roast or bag of pecans. That’s the modern version of shrinkage. How much are retailers losing to scammers who hope the attendant employee is looking the other way when they scan their groceries? Big box stores like Costco have a final check at the door but how effective are they really at catching merchandise that has not been paid for?
The problem has now progressed to outright theft—no apologies. Smash and grab thieves enter a store with tote bags or pillow cases and scoop shelves full of merchandise into their bag, then run out the door. Catch me if you can. Who wants to risk their life chasing someone with a bag full of imported designer perfumes or diapers? Security is ill-equipped to deal with such blatant law-breakers and retailers find it difficult to locate and press charges against these people. The police tend to brush aside theft of less than a thousand dollars. They’re after bigger prey—we hope!
We need to be concerned because retail shrinkage affects every one of us. How much of our burgeoning grocery bill is the result of people stealing? How much is the price of gas affected by bad people who fill up and drive off without paying? There seems to be little accountability for theft and breaking the law these days and it’s costing us all. I know there are security cameras everywhere in malls and stores, but in the time if takes to find a single human sales associate in Hudson’s Bay stores you could stuff thousands of dollars worth of merchandise into your bag before anyone would notice. I’ve actually stood in the deserted housewares section and yelled “Is there anyone here?” when I needed help.
Should we call for a smiling millennial Murray Westgate to come out and fill our tank, clean our windshield, and check our oil at the service station? As a matter of fact, I prefer having someone else pump my gas as I’m lazy and the equipment is usually yucky. Call me a princess!
Much as I now support the convenience of self-checkout, I question how much extra I’m really paying for merchandise because the retailer thought they would “save money” by eliminating checkout staff. Why should I have to pay for the retailer’s so-called and perhaps misguided cost-cutting meaures?
Whether your concerns are as minor (!!) as George Costanza’s or as annoying as my own, shrinkage is a problem that is not going to go away. Theft and its criminal cousins are costing us dearly. Would returning to real, live, human cashiers and sales associates at stores help alleviate the problem? I vote, “Yes”. I have no doubt that enhanced staffing would minimize shrinkage. And, bring back the baggers too. Are you with me?