Trust Me

UPC-A barcode

When I go to the supermarket, I use a hand-held device from the store to scan each item as it goes in my bag.  You swipe your shopper card when you first get to the store and a kiosk gives you a little ray-gun-like device which scans the bar code.  For produce you weight it and the scale prints a tag which you scan.  As you can see in this video, it’s pretty easy, it offers special savings on some items if you are using th wand, and it allows you to check out at the self-service and express registers in about 30 seconds, saving you quite a bit of time where I shop.  My wife asked an interesting question about these things and we got the answer yesterday as well as a good business lesson.

The question is simple – how do they keep people from stealing?  No one is making sure you put every item in your cart into the device.  In theory, a crook could only scan a portion of what really goes in the bags, check out as usual, and walk out of the store.  Given that there are constantly reports of people shop-lifting in the local police reports (the first thing everyone in town reads in the local paper, of course), why isn’t this a huge problem for the store?

As we were checking out yesterday, the register asked us to wait for assistance to help us fix our problem.  This was surprising to me since everything seemed to be working and I didn’t really need assistance.  They do have customer service helpers around if you need them – I suspect they’re also making sure you don’t have a $5 charge for 6 bags of groceries.  The guy came over and told us we’d been selected for a random audit and proceeded to punch in some code on our scanner and scanned 10 items at random in our bags.  He explained that this was how they made sure people were actually scanning what they were taking.  Ah HA!

I’ve shopped using this thing dozens of times and this was my first audit.  Not only that, but I didn’t even know they did such things (hence the question from the Mrs.).  I had two thoughts immediately.  First, why don’t they make a bigger thing out of the fact that you might get audited?  I would think that would help discourage “order-enhancement” and prevent having to involve security and law enforcement later.  I’m sure the real thieves wouldn’t care, but it might discourage some.  Second – while the audit only took a couple of minutes – probably less time than had we been in a regular check out line – maybe the store should have said “thanks for your patience” by giving us a coupon towards something off our order?  The amount – maybe a dollar or two – is insignificant but the recognition that the store just inconvenienced us a little as well as assumed we were stealing – shows that they care.

I don’t think you can say “thank you” often enough when there is so much competition out there.   This might have been a missed opportunity for the store to do that.  What’s your take?

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