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Saturday, September 25, 2010

Check My Bag? No, I think I'll Check My Senses And Shop Someplace Else

Shopping in the South Bronx I’ve run into this sign a lot in my life:


Usually I’d see it at local retailers in places like Third Avenue, Fordham Road and 170th Street in the Bronx when I was a kid. Store owners often claimed they checked bags as a “security” measure to prevent shoplifting.

Over the years I grew accustomed to it. When I was growing up in the late 1980’s early 1990’s I often saw these signs at the Jeans and Sneaker stores Like Dr. Jay’s and V.I.M. with all the trendy cool clothes everybody coveted in High School. As I grew older I noticed these signs and booths were emerging at the Supermarket, drugstores, and even 99cent stores. Basically in order to shop there, a customer had to give a clerk their bags from previous stores they shopped with and they’d hand them a card or something. When the customer finished shopping, they gave the clerk the card back and got their bags back. In most cases. About 85-90% of the time.

But if they lost the customer's bags…

They were only liable  for up to about $15. So if a customer had a $2000 laptop in there with their LIFE on it and a store employee gave it to some dude who said it was his bag...

Screw the customer who trusted the retailer to take reasonable care of their stuff. The store is only responsible for $15.

It always irked me how these retailers with the bag check policies implied customers who patronized their businesses were responsible for the loss of merchandise, however, if the retailer lost a customer’s bags they weren’t responsible for reimbursing the customer for the value of the contents of their bags. Nice double standard there. Isn’t this supposed to work both ways? Wouldn’t a retailer reimbursing a customer for their $2000 laptop teach the store to be more careful with a customer’s possessions?

What really aggravates me is how careless store clerks are with customer’s stuff after it's checked. In supermarkets I’ve watched clerks walk away from the customer’s bags leaving them unattended to go do other stuff. Sometimes clerks would be doing something on the other side of the store for fifteen minutes to a half-hour while customer’s bags are just THERE. For anyone to take. Sure, in some stores the customer’s stuff is behind a counter. But the person paid to hold the customer’s stuff ISN’T THERE WATCHING IT. With the customer’s bags TWO FEET FROM THE DOOR, and NO ONE SECURING IT, ANYONE CAN JUST TAKE A CUSTOMER’S BAGS AND WALK OUT.

But screw the customer. Even though the store’s employees and management are clearly negligent, the retailer is only responsible for $15.

What’s even more disturbing is what I’ve seen in some supermarkets lately. Customers’ bags are either left on top of the counter or just thrown onto a pile near the window with no one watching them. Some security there.

Yeah, checking bags is supposed to stop people from sneaking store merchandise in their bags, but WHO IS PROTECTING THE CUSTOMER’S BAGS FROM THEFT?

That’s the question I really want an answer to. Shouldn’t this work both ways? Shouldn’t the retailer be making thier best efforts to protect the customer’s stuff from theft? Why aren’t they held liable for not taking reasonable care of a customer’s stuff?

That's right if a customer walks into a store with a bag check policy with that $2000 laptop check it, in and the store's staff loses it, the store is only responsible for $15 because it’s implied that you read the sign (wherever it’s placed) and understood you entered into a contract with the retailer.

But the retailer only being responsible for $15 sounds like a cop-out to me. If these inner-city retailers are so afraid of theft, then why not hire a plain-clothed licensed security guard who has their 8-hour certificate to protect merchandise? Certified security guards make about the same wages as a store clerk. And wouldn’t a guard be more effective against preventing shoplifters from walking out with merchandise because they’re trained on what suspicious behaviors to look for?

That’s how Macy’s and the big supermarkets like PathMark police their shops. But local inner-city retailers think having some untrained kid checking bags and looking out for shoplifters is a good idea.

Having a clerk doing security in addition to stocking shelves and working deli counter never seemed like an effective way to prevent shoplifting to me. It always seemed like a BIG ASS lawsuit waiting to happen. So let’s say the clerk catches a shoplifter and injures them in preventing a theft. The store would be held liable for having staff using excessive force, and the employee would be held liable individually as well.

Why? Because neither is a licensed, trained and certified security guard.

And what if said clerk is injured or killed in confronting a shoplifter in securing merchandise? Who pays their medical bills? Funeral expenses? Pain and suffering? Local retailers may carry insurance on their merchandise, but many can barely afford to pay their bills at the end of the month. An employee getting injured or killed on the job would put a small retailer out of business.

Yeah, it’s noble that an employee would fight to defend the store and protect its merchandise. But certain policies implemented by local retailers to stop shoplifters like bag checks and clerks working security are penny wise and pound foolish. This is why the big chains like Target, Gap, and Sears make it company policy to tell store employees NOT to confront or engage shoplifters on the sales floor. In their eyes engaging shoplifters in-store is seen as an escalation  which can lead to more violence and injury of staff and customers especially if a thief is armed with a weapon. They’re willing to eat the loss of merchandise with their insurance rather than deal with the expense of a huge lawsuit if someone gets injured or killed on the premises. Sounds crazy, but it saves lives and money long-term.

Retailers call bag checks a security measure. Customers of color endure them as part of shopping in the Inner-City.

I call them racial profiling.

Seriously, why is it only in inner-city stores there are these bag check policies at the door? Why is it implied that people of color are going to shoplift before they enter the store? I know the inner-city is a dangerous place, but 99 percent of the people in the inner-city aren’t criminals. Most people are just out to shop; they shouldn’t have to endure a battery of security checks to get a gallon of milk.

Seriously, why is it when I shop in the ghetto are my $20, $50 and $100 bills scrutinized to ensure they aren’t counterfeit? Why is it when I want to use my credit card or debit card with a local retailer who isn’t a chain store, I have to show ID? Why does a person of color have to spend a minimum of $15 in an inner city retailer if they want to use a credit card? And why is there no cash refund and only an exchange in local inner-city stores?

I find it funny that when I travel into chain stores in my neighborhood, like Rite Aid, Target, and Path Mark, there are NO bag checks. In these stores my money isn’t scrutinized for authenticity when I use $20, $50, and $100 bills. I can use debit or credit card without being asked for ID. I can spend as little as a penny on a debit card or a credit card if I like. And I can return stuff for a full refund at almost any time within 90-180 days.

Moreover, when I shop at stores Below 96th Street in New York City like Whole Foods, Duane Reade, and Food Emporium, not only are there NO bag checks or other discriminatory retail policies, but customers are allowed to bring in stuff like strollers and bikes in while they shopped. Heck, I’ve seen them bring DOGS into retail businesses unchallenged!

But let a person of color do this North of 96th Street and retailers throw a hissy fit. Not only accusing them of stealing, but accusing them of disrupting their store!

I’ll note there were a few stores that initiated these crazy bag check policies and other restrictive rules below 96th Street in Manhattan. I’ll note that all of them quickly went out of business.

Why? RICH WHITE CUSTOMERS WON’T PUT UP WITH THAT SHIT. If a retailer implemented these policies such as bag checks in places like the Upper East Side, the ENTIRE NEIGHBORHOOD would stop shopping there. Moreover, other competing retailers would capitalize on their stupidity of retailers in these high-rent areas by posting signs stating they DIDN’T CHECK BAGS and take customers from them.

Now that I’ve grown up and become aware of racial profiling in retail I do my best to make it to avoid shopping with retailers who check bags and practice other policies that discriminate against customers of color. As much as I like to support local businesses in my neighborhood, I’m not going to tolerate being disrespected by merchants who do not value my business. I feel that if a retailer can’t trust me with their merchandise, then I can’t trust them with my money. As a paying customer I deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, not like a criminal casing the joint.

Check my bag? No, I’ll check my senses and find some other place to shop.

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