Safeway’s New High Tech Anti-Theft System Nabs…Sable (now with video demonstration)
UPDATE July 22, 2010: After doing a bit more digging, and a rogue op. or 2, I’ve come up with some details on the “new technology” Safeway is using in the Renton store I was stopped at on Sunday.
The system in question is called “Gatekeepers Systems”– and some of us may even be familiar with it. Years ago Safeway implemented this system in order to prevent shoppers from taking carts off their property. The system is installed at Renton for this purpose, which is considered a “cart containment” effort; they even advertise it on their carts:
Now Safeway (at least in Renton) is using another layer of the system, this time inside the store. It is called the PURCHECK system. Some details:
Shopping carts are increasingly becoming the tool of choice among shoplifters, organized retail theft rings and “boosters”. Shoplifters using carts are able to steal large quantities of high-value merchandise, often escaping with hundreds of dollars worth of goods. Shopping carts make thieves appear less conspicuous. Some pushout perpetrators even bring their own shopping bags to blend in with paying customers, making them even harder to spot and apprehend. From organized theft rings to individual repeat offenders, untold amounts of stolen goods are rolling right out the front doors of today’s retailers.
purchek provides cost-effective protection against pushout theft while preserving a customer-friendly shopping experience.
– Immediate and dramatic reduction in cart-based shoplifting.
– Locking wheel and integrated alarm provides active response to theft.
– System is completely transparent to the paying customer; eliminates the need for gates and customer guidance systems.
How it works at checkout:
Mounted inside of each checkout, the PurchaseManager sends a wireless digital-coded signal to the Gatekeeper Wheel as it passes through an active checkout. The “exit permission signal” allows the paying customer to freely exit the store after making their purchase. The compact enclosure also contains a power supply transformer and a filter to reduce electromagnetic interference.
How it works at the store entrance/exit:
Typically installed at each exit, the DoorManager contains a microprocessor that generates and transmits two distinct digitally-encoded signals that travel through wires embedded in the floor surface. The multi-functional DoorManager is capable of transmitting both a locking signal and an in-store timed permission signal. The wall-mountable enclosure also contains a power supply transformer and a filter to reduce electromagnetic interference.
Don’t forget, there is also a customizable alarm system that sounds when you and all your stolen groceries get to the door…receipt in hand.
They even have a nifty video. Notice how the system claims shoppers can easily visit other areas in the store without hassle.
[vsw id=”fTAMNIqC7i8″ source=”youtube” width=”325″ height=”244″ autoplay=”no”]
As for whether or not I’ve received an adequate apology from Safeway, the answer is unequivocally no.
Via twitter they’ve said they want someone in upper management to contact me and asked for my name and telephone number.
I responded by asking them to email me the name and direct phone number for the person in question. I provided my email address.
I’ve since heard nothing.
I made several attempts to contact the “division” manager myself, and was told, when I called the store, the corporate office in California, and area offices here, that information is not public and employees “aren’t supposed to give it out”- which means, if you have a problem that can’t be resolved at the store level, you’re screwed as a customer because no one above store management cares to hear from you about it.
Further proof Safeway doesn’t care about it’s treatment of customers, or the experiences we’re having in their stores.
If anything changes, I’ll let you know.
ORIGINAL POST July 19, 2010
I was recently stopped at Safeway just off of Rainier avenue in Renton. After paying for my groceries at the Starbucks kiosk, I left. Or at least, I tried to leave.
As soon as I stepped out of the front door, the cart stopped. I wrestled to get it out of the store, but the wheels weren’t moving. At about the same time, an unfamiliar alarm sounded from somewhere inside the store.
Then a store employee approached me.
We made eye contact. I told him there was something wrong with the cart, which I assumed was why he approached me in the first place.
In an accusatory tone, he said he needed to see my receipt because the cart stopped.
Now, I’m pretty quick…but I didn’t understand what was happening, the cart, the receipt, the cart, now a confrontation? On a Sunday morning? Uhg.
I asked again what the problem was. He would offer nothing other than “the cart stopped.”
Another man stood nearby, dressed in plain clothes and giving me this look like…like he was ready to tackle me.
Then, it dawned on me, in a real, slap-you-in-the-face moment; I was being stopped for shop lifting and the 2 men were the grocery police.
We’ve all had an alarm go off in error, right? It’s really no big deal. Usually an employee respectfully, almost causually asks to see your receipt and then sends you on your way. Occasionally you may have to go back in the store for them to remove a security tag from something you just purchased. They’re nice about it. It’s no big deal. That wasn’t this situation.
So I had two reactions. The external reaction was simple. I remained calm –though unimpressed- pulled out my receipt and showed it to the employees.
The internal reaction was a bit more complicated. I was furious. It was mid Sunday morning. People were staring and an alarm was alerting even more people of the incident and I was in the spot light. For shoplifting. I was being talked to like someone who’d obviously come to their store with ill-intent.
The Safeway employee took my receipt. He looked at it, looked at his watch, looked at it again, and said “alright” and handed it back. No apology. No explanation. He didn’t even compare the receipt to what was in my bags. He turned to his co-worker and they both focused their attention on the cart, leaving me to walk away while everyone stared.
I thought about the incident the entire drive home; the tone of the employee, the accusatory glare. When I got home, I called the store.
I asked Mike the manager “what would cause a grocery cart to stop at the front door of your store?”
To my surprise, Mike said he wasn’t really allowed to share the specifics. When I explained to him who I was and that I’d be talking about this on the radio, he was a bit more generous with the details.
He told me that Safeway has started a new anti theft technology system, in the works for about a month now at that particular Renton store. It is designed to stop a shopper’s cart at the front door, if the cart hasn’t gone through checkout. He said quote- “if the cart hasn’t gone through checkout, the items haven’t been paid for, which is a crime.” He said it in that “duh” voice. Guess I was still slow to catch on.
So by that rationale, if a cart leaves the store without going through a checkout isle, the items in the cart are stolen. Stop the cart and sound the alarm- literally.
Here’s the problem; the rationale doesn’t hold. At all.
My cart didn’t go through checkout because I paid for my items at Starbucks, which isn’t unusual for customers to do, especially if you only have a few items- I had 6.
I asked Mike what employees are supposed to say to customers they’ve just accused of shoplifting, and he claims asking for a receipt –which is proof of purchase- is not accusing you of shop lifting.
I disagree manager Mike. After all, it’s an anti-theft system. When it goes off, the suspicion and accusation of theft is implicit.
Safeway could train their employees to say something like, “I’m sorry ma’am, your cart seems to have triggered our alarm, may I see your receipt?” He didn’t come close to saying anything that respectful. Instead his tone said “I caught you, and I’m going to prove you’ve stolen from us.”
The Renton store may be dealing with an uptick in shoplifting and their system may still have some bugs. But that’s not a reason to talk to me like I’m a thief. There was no benefit of the doubt, no respect- just an authoritarian “give me your receipt or else.” That there was muscle standing by waiting for me to make the slightest move in either direction, certainly didn’t make me feel safe.
It tells me Safeway doesn’t care who it offends or mistreats in the name of loss-prevention.
Thanks to poor employee training and a system with a few kinks to work out, in a span of 3 minutes I went from a typical customer to being treated like a criminal, whether passively or directly.
So here are some tips for Safeway and any other store thinking of implementing this system. First, fix the cart monitoring system at the coffee kiosk. Second, train your employees to approach all customers in a friendly, respectful manner. Third, explain the situation to the customer, absent any accusation of wrongdoing on the customer’s part. You want to do whatever you can to make sure your efforts to reduce theft don’t marginalize those who shop in your stores.
Safeway obviously sees this from only one side- their side. They think they are protecting themselves from criminals, and that anyone who touches a shopping cart or a hand basket is a potential thief. And I guess their right, though seriously pessimistic in their thinking.
The reality is, Safeway isn’t the only one in the equation using this system- we use it too. I can tell you, it’s far from perfect- both the technology and the people using it. It seems some folks have forgotten technology can fail.
Absent that, use common sense. If I really wanted to steal a bag of raw chicken and frozen vegetables, I’d likely have run when approached. I wouldn’t have tried to get assistance with what I thought was a faulty cart.
It must be said, because the dynamic was obviously lost on Safeway’s employees: I am a Black woman. I was stopped by two white men who spoke to me and looked at me literally as if I was someone they’d just caught. I’m certainly far from the only Black person who shops at the Renton Safeway on Rainier. If they want to avoid giving even the slightest hint of mistreatment or bias, they’ve got some work to do. They need to ask, and answer the question “why would our employees treat someone like a criminal?”
They should be sensitive and respectful of the neighborhood they are in and the clientele they serve. They failed to do so.
In closing, I have to note that this morning I received a public tweet from Safeway on Twitter. It said “Glad everything was handled. Sorry for the inconvenience!”
First, nothing was handled. Mike the manager certainly didn’t offer an apology when I spoke with him, and a 140 character or less tweet, well now, that’s just insulting.
Second, being publicly humiliated and spoken to without an ounce of respect, can’t be compared to a simple inconvenience. Shame on you Safeway, for thinking otherwise.
Mistakes happen. When they do, an apology is in order. I’m still waiting.