I once worked for a small retail store where the employees had no trust in the customers. The owner told us to watch the sales floor like hawks, making sure customers didn’t steal anything. Many employees were zealous soldiers of this policy. They stalked people around corners, peeked out from the back room, and incessantly counted the number of items on hangers as people passed.
All over the store, there were all caps signs in blaring colors:
“IF WE CATCH YOU STEALING, WE’LL PROSECUTE TO THE FULLEST EXTENT OF THE LAW!”
In my opinion, these measures don’t protect your business. If anything, it drives customers away. Here are a few reasons why I think small business owners should stop displaying their shoplifting policy.
First off, who wants to shop anywhere with employees breathing down their neck?
I used to go to a clothing store whose employees would have strip searched me if they could have legally done it. The employees would pretend to straighten clothes wherever I stood. They would ask if I was done in the dressing room after trying on a couple pairs of pants. They would look me up and down, making sure my shoes and belt weren’t snatched from their shelves. After awhile I stopped going to this store. No one wants to shop with someone trailing your every move.
What do a few items cost, really?
Unless your business is in the sketchy part of town, how many people are actually stealing? And if they do steal, how much is the net worth of those items? No doubt, you need to prevent theft, but how much are a few tootsie rolls at the candy counter in a gas station, really? A plastic necklace from the kid’s jewelry section? Compare the costs of theft to the lifetime value of a customer that you’d otherwise drive away by not trusting them.
Is it just about the money? What about community?
You run your small business to make money, and you need to protect that. But, in my opinion, a lot of small businesses thrive because of the sense of community and trust found nowhere else.
I stopped going to a local restaurant when I found out how little they trusted me. When I forgot my “frequent diner” card one day, the cashier just told me to bring it in another time to get it stamped. A few days later, I mentioned it to a different cashier. She raised her eyebrow and looked at me for a second. She was reluctant to stamp it, even though she had seen me often.
Why would I lie? If I wanted to get free food, I’d go to an expensive steakhouse & just walk out before I got the check. I can understand a Wal-mart greeter checking to make sure I really purchased the flat screen TV in my cart – but that’s the pain of big business. I go to the local businesses for the community and the friendship.
So, that’s why I say stop trying too hard to prevent shoplifting. It’s better to trust your customers and lose a little than to lose the trust of your customers.
What do you think?
Small business advocate and proponent of the American Dream, Tyson Steele writes about the creativity and muscle it takes for the entrepreneur to build a successful business. From start-up innovation and marketing to company management and financing, Tyson translates the technical humdrum of biz-speak and bank-speak into something anyone can read.