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The Safeway Resolution

August 16, 2010

If you don’t listen to Sable on KBCS, you may have missed this update:

A few weeks ago I told you about an encounter I had at the downtown Renton Safeway.  My shopping cart was stopped at the door by a new anti-theft system, then, approached but two Safeway employees who demanded proof I had purchased my groceries.

According to Safeway, that particular store is dealing with a rise in organized crime; people walk into the store, fill up a cart full of groceries and take them without paying. To combat this, Safeway employed TruCheck- an electronic system that will lock up shopping carts at the doors if the cart has not gone through a checkout aisle.

My cart was stopped because I paid for my groceries at the in-store kiosk.  It would have been a simple misunderstanding if not for the demeanor and attitude of the employees who stopped me. Not only were they rude, but the plain clothes security guard looked like he might tackle me if I blinked the wrong way, let alone turn to walk away.

They assumed because the new system stopped my cart, I was a shoplifter. I wasn’t.

It’s an experienced that exposed a significant hole in the new system.  There are at least 3 other areas in Safeway where a customer can pay for their groceries besides a check out aisle.  Those places do not have the security technology installed, causing carts to be stopped while an alarm blares overhead.

I wrote about what happened which caught the attention of Safeway. Eventually a division manager named Brett, contacted me.  He readily admitted the system had flaws and apologized for what happened.  Last week he invited me back to the store to talk about the changes they’ve made.

From now on, if a customer pays for their groceries at the coffee kiosk like I did, the employee is supposed to advise the customer their cart will stop at the door, and offer to have someone help them carry out their groceries.

When a cart is stopped at the door, employees are to respectfully explain to the customer what happened and ask to see their receipt.  This is important. No one explained to me why I was stopped.  I didn’t have any idea what was going on other than I was suspected of being a criminal.

I asked the question, what would have happened if I’d simply turned and walked away instead of showing my receipt? I felt then, and still feel today that I would have been grabbed.

It turns out, I was probably right. Brett told me that in retraining their employees, Safeway discovered most didn’t know they can’t physically grab or restrain suspected shoplifters.

I would have been well within my right to walk to my car, but prior to the retraining, doing so probably would have led to a much uglier experience.

Most important, Brett says the employees have now been trained to remember technology is not perfect.  If a cart is stopped, they should not assume the customer is guilty of a crime, which means, they shouldn’t treat them that way.

In the end, Safeway did the right thing. The system they’re using to help prevent theft isn’t perfect but the additional training employees received is crucial. Technology can’t replace people, and they need to be careful to respect customers, or risk losing them.

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