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Should the store have done something?

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Ok, so i'm still reeling a bit from what i witnessed at WFM this afternoon, and i'd love to get input and opinions from my fellow CHers.

i went to throw away a tissue as i was waiting to check out, and a man was blocking my access to the trash receptacle. i said excuse me a couple of times, but he didn't budge or move his cart out of the way, so i reached around him...at which point i realized he was busy filling his shopping bags with all the disposable plates, cups and utensils the store provides for people who eat in the café area. not just a few of each item, he was taking STACKS of plates & cups, and handfuls of utensils. i stood next to him and stared for a minute, but he was still ignoring me, so i walked back over to the checkout line to begin bagging my groceries.

i pointed out the situation to three different store employees - the cashiers in my lane and the next checkout lane, and another employee who happened to be walking by. the cashier in the other lane started watching him in disbelief, but said nothing, the cashier who was checking my groceries kept his back turned and ignored the situation, and the other employee shrugged, and walked away to do a price check for someone. i asked if anyone was going to do something about it, and my query fell on deaf ears, so i continued to watch him as he cleared out the ENTIRE stash, and wheeled his cart right out of the store.

i was tempted to say something to him myself, but to be perfectly honest i got a really bad vibe from the guy and wouldn't have felt safe doing so. instead, i stopped by Customer Service on my way out, intending to talk to a manger about the situation. the employee who had walked away earlier was standing there, so i asked him why he hadn't done or said anything about it. his response? "He doesn't care. I've said something in the past but he just ignored me and walked away."

i'm sorry, WHAT???? this guy does this on a regular basis, you KNOW about it, and you continue to turn a blind eye? he's STEALING, plain and simple. i tried to explain this to the employee, and he said "We can't really do anything about it." i asked what the purpose was of having Security personnel if they didn't stop people from stealing, and he just shrugged. i suggested that the least they could do was ban the guy from the store, and all he said was "Sorry, i don't know what to tell you."

i tried to explain to him that when the store lets people like that get away with such behavior, they're essentially *condoning* it, and that the people who end up suffering for it are those of us who shop there, because as the store needs to continually re-stock those supplies, the cost of doing so eventually makes its way to increases in the prices WE pay. he SO wasn't getting it. i was really pissed about the situation, but clearly i wasn't going to get anywhere with it, so i gave up, wished him a Happy Holiday, and left.

i'm really curious to hear what you all think of the situation, and how you might have handled it...?

  1. Maybe the better employees get the 26th off.

    1. The true response you'll never hear:

      "It's no skin off our nose. We cover these kinds of losses by jacking up the prices you pay."

      1 Reply
      1. re: alanbarnes

        right, which is what i was trying to explain to the employee when i told him that by allowing this to occur, they end up screwing the rest of us who don't steal from the store by charging higher prices to absorb the cost of stocking those additional supplies. he didn't understand what i was getting at so i just dropped it.

      2. Maybe the store employees are just as wary as you were about this character. It is not worth getting punched or subjected to other violence. However, if a security guard saw this, he/she should have taken action.

        1 Reply
        1. re: emilief

          That was my guess, too...that he's a regular, a known nut case, and they're afraid of him.

        2. My take? I thank my lucky stars that I have the resources to shop at Whole Foods in the first place as opposed to having to steal all that stuff for whatever reason (for a food bank? can't imagine that there's a market for stolen paper goods . . .).

          I mean, really -- if it costs me a couple dollars more a trip because some sick, hapless, probably homeless guy is taking the plates and forks and cups, I'm fine with that.

          1 Reply
          1. re: bebevonbernstein

            had he been homeless, i wouldn't have had such a problem with the situation, but that was certainly not the case...this guy had purchased several bags' worth of groceries before he headed over to the table to pack everything into the space that remained inside his bags. i watched him through the window as he wheeled the cart out to the parking lot, loaded his bags into a BMW X5, and drove off.

          2. Welcome to the modern world of over-cautious, litigation-terrified MBA management. It's better to prevent your employees from provoking "a customer" of such proven value than to initiate a confrontation and prevent them from coming back. There's no consequence to that particular lout. He knows that all he has to do is ignore everyone that might question his action and leave without saying a word. The employees know that they're not to interfere/prevent his larcenous act. Managers are conspicuously absent probably observing the entire event from the safety of the security office...

            Up-thread, someone mentioned that a security guard "should have taken action..." The few security guards I know have all been trained to "dial 911" in all situations requiring customer confrontation. Those that "involved themselves" in preventing known shoplifters were terminated after each incident. Corporate types don't see it as loss-prevention when the criminal is detained; it's the worst of bad public relations because no one wants to be witness to bad people getting caught.

            1. Hmmm, I don't know enough about how WFM treat their employees, but I have to wonder if everyone you spoke to was conducting a cost benefit analysis. Speaking as someone who has had s*** jobs in the past, I can't imagine I would push an issue with a potentially crazy person and risk my safety (or even that of others) for the pittance I received. Unless there was decent security available, I would likely avoid confrontation with a possibly dangerous person. (You yourself say you would have said something but go a really bad vibe from him.)

              AlanBarnes makes an excellent point about passing on the cost to the customer, but this cost tends also to be passed on to the cashier in terms of benefits and wages, In that vein, I should care, but in the short term, it may be too scary.

              I would, if truly concerned, talk to a a floor manage and security. If both seemed inefficient to manage both a menace and a theft of goods, I would contact the company in a letter that suggested they might consider providing security guards in the shops.

              But this is all conjecture, since I don't like the abuse of free goods, but someone who does this is in a situation far worse than I.

              I'm being so wordy given that others seem to share many of these sentiments.

              1. I have several out-of-the-box questions. None of my questions explain the lack of response by the staff, just thought that popped into my mind as I read your account. You said the man did not respond when you said excuse me. Any chance he was deaf? You wrote that you got a bad vibe...can you explain what caused that bad vibe? Anything to do with his clothing, personal upkeep, etc? Any chance the WFM staff were getting those same vibes? If he does it "all the time", perhaps staff have confronted him in the past and have since been instructed to let it go.

                I work in social services including with individuals with mental illness and challenges such as Asperger's Syndrome and both those possibilities come to mind. Those diagnoses don't excuse his behavior but might shed some light on the situation. I wonder if they've thought of putting fewer supplies out at a time or figuring out if there is a pattern to this individual's visits and stocking supplies accordingly.

                7 Replies
                1. re: lgss

                  you know, i was so amazed by the situation in the moment that the potential of a psychiatric condition never even crossed my mind...which is odd, considering that i have a psych degree and i do some behavioral counseling, including work with patients on the Autism spectrum! lgss, you raised some very good points.

                  i don't think he's deaf - the employee i spoke to said they've talked to him about it before, and he indicated that there had been a two-way exchange about it but that the guy just didn't care.

                  he wasn't unkempt or unclean in any way, and he drove himself out of the parking lot so he's clearly functional. i don't know how to explain the vibe - he just seemed a little menacing somehow, at least to me - i'm a petite woman, so as "fit" and strong as i may be for my size, i'm not looking to tangle with a guy who has at least 50 pounds on me.

                  heck, maybe he's OCD with a major germ phobia about reusing dishes, and will only eat with disposable supplies. if that's the case, then i truly do feel sorry for him, because i've seen first-hand how much suffering people go through with conditions like that...but it still doesn't give him (or anyone else) the right to do what he did.

                  look, i'm not saying one of the employees should tackle him to the ground and wrench the contraband from his hands. but MANY stores have a policy of banning anyone caught stealing on their premises, and i don't really see how this is any different. i just have a hard time sitting back and letting people take advantage like that, and it really bothers me that the store knows about it and lets it continue.

                  1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                    Here in MA there are uniformed cops at the exit doors of the grocery stores, including WFM, not so in other states where I've lived.

                    1. re: lgss

                      Where in MA do you live? There are no uniformed cops at the exit doors of the grocery stores in the part of MA where I live, whether WFM, Stop and Shop, etc.. If there were, I think they'd have more serious things to do than to stop people who were taking extra napkins from the snack bar.

                      1. re: taos

                        Actually it's a weird Cambridge law.

                    2. re: goodhealthgourmet

                      I don't really understand how a store could effectively ban a customer. To do that, you'd have to station a guard at the door specifically looking for customers on the ban list (so he/she would have to either have perfect recall or be constantly comparing faces to a printed list), and escort them away as they tried to enter the store, potentially provoking a violent confrontation, and confusing and scaring other shoppers. You'd have to increase your staffing to do this, you'd potentially scare off customers who don't understand what's going on and go home to tell people about the abusive security guards at WFM and for what? To save a few paper plates, forks and knives? Honesty I don't see any real benefit in it to anyone. The store loses a customer who already has paid for his overpriced groceries before taking the snack bar supplies, possibly loses other customers, gets a bad reputation for provoking "innocent" customers and has to pay a security guard a salary much higher than the value of those disposable supplies.

                      I understand it's the principle of the thing for you- we all hate to see others getting away with things we know are wrong and would never do, but businesses have to approach such situations in a more practical manner.

                      1. re: Chris VR

                        i have friends who are attorneys that have told me about the store policy i mentioned. i know it's used by several major department stores - anyone caught shoplifting is banned from the store (and all their other properties, though that would be *really* difficult for a grocery store to enforce), and if they're ever found on the premises again they'll be arrested.

                        i don't even think WFM needs to go that far with this guy. seeing an authority figure from the store tell him something as simple as "if you continue to take advantage of our generosity, you'll no longer be welcome to shop here" would satisfy me. i just wish they'd do SOMETHING, anything, instead of passively condoning it.

                        1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                          We all have friends who are attorneys...
                          I find some are a little more compassionate than others and a little less willing to go to the 'let's get 'em' mentality.
                          What would you like WFM to do this, being you've talked to your friends who've given you legal advice?

                  2. What the man was doing seems obviously ethically wrong.

                    However, it seems apparent that WFM has not put a high priority on limiting how many pieces of free plasticware and paper accessories customers can take, preferring that customers be self-governing and responsible. I don't think this means they expect customers to govern each other. As a fairly upscale store, it makes sense that they would not want to put up big signs that say, "Please take only 1 plate!" It doesn't give off the welcoming vibe WFM likes.

                    It's their policy and if you shop there, you choose to go along with their policy and pay any slightly higher prices that go along with that. In exchange you get a store that feels less like a a police state than, say, your local 7-Eleven and with higher prices than the PigglyWiggly, or whatever, down the street.

                    It's your choice. If you don't like the policy, don't shop at WFM. That's what makes America great.

                    What would I have done? Been dismayed at the man's ethical choice, but not interfered. It's a private store and I don't work there nor am I a WFMI stock holder. If I were terribly offended, I would have returned my basket of goods to the shelves and not shopped there in the future.

                    1. Like you, I would've made my presence known by standing there staring at him. I've been told that when I am irked, Death rides my right shoulder, and stealing so openly will instinctively trigger that moral outrage. I don't understand or appreciate people that think society owes them and a customer like the boor you saw needs to be smacked upside his head with a Clue-X-4. You noted the downside to being proactive (staring at the lout, searching out employees, searching out customer service) but don't stop. I wish more customers actively promoted moral and social awarenesses instead of actively seeking the hole in sand approach to Real Life®.

                      1. I was under the impression that store employees aren't even allowed to do anything about situations like these.
                        However you think after this guy kept in coming in several times that they would've contacted management and banned him from the store or something.
                        Who in their right mind would even steal something as cheap as paper cups and plates >_< Also, who even needs stacks of them? I haven't used disposable cutlery/plates in forever.

                        1. You informed store employees. After that, it was none of your business.

                          1. The store should have responded differently...that is, other than indifferently. As a customer you did what you could and then some. That is the terminal point of your responsibility situationally.

                            It is sad that we collectively turn a blind eye to these behaviors - be they anti-social and theft-loving, or mental illness-realted, but good people do what they can.

                            If one is concerned about markups for waste and theft being passed on, then shopping in a different place is an option.

                            I'm all for voting with my pocketbook. Short of vigilante-justice, I frankly don't know how to combat this behavior. Other than shopping where I do. :-)

                            Cay

                            1. Ugh. Honestly, I can understand the local low guy on the totem pole being reticent to get into a confrontation with this bit of social blight.

                              Personally, I'd email the corporate office and point them to this thread. If corporate responds that these are free goods available to the public, I'd then alert my friends and neighbors. What kind of company is so far in the black these days that they can afford to ignore outright theft?

                              1. Wow. These are such excellent problems to have during the holidays. While we worry about organic vs. not organic; debate the merits of bacon; endlessly debate which 50 items to serve our many friends and family members on Christmas Eve (never mind Christmas Day) -- we can also worry about the impact of some clearly-not-all-there guy's impact on our already overpriced groceries. Now *there's* the true spirit of Christmas!!

                                Perhaps next time you see him, you can take an example from the Starbuck's customers who "paid it forward": maybe offer to pay for some plates? A bar of chocolate? Start a conversation in an effort understand what's going on with him rather than insisting that the minimum-wage workers *do* something which may put them at risk for violence?

                                Happy Holidays to everyone.

                                1. Let's start with the fact that it is their store and their customers, their employees, their decision. What you could do was inform an employee and let them decide. Since when is vigilante morality the venue of the customer. And who's to say whether this individual had some deal with the local WF? The job of the customer is to inform the staff when s/he sees what is a perceived violation and let the store handle therelationship with the perceived violator.

                                  When will this customer morality vigilante-ism stop. Someone stoops over and picks up a dime, should they have to report it to lost and found, will someone write a letter to corporate if a little old lady takes an extra 3-4 plastic bags so she has a few to pick up her doggie's poop, do you hand cuff the person who does not return the cart to the proper place in the parking lot.

                                  Oh the holier than thou people. It must be nice knowing that they have never double parked to pick up a pizza, always mentioned when the register undercharged them by $0.05 or refused the extra free slice of turkey at the deli counter.

                                  With all the problems in the world, you do your best to stay between the yellow lines of life. To pounce on someone for some unfortunate events or issues is unfortunate and if it makes people feel better pouncing on the less fortunate, jfood has a resolution to add to all your lists and it begins with, "there but for the grace of God goes me."

                                  Happy Holidays and may everyone receive a little compassion in their respective holiday packages.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: jfood

                                    amen jfood.

                                    i used to have a friend, who if she saw someone littering would pick up the garbage and show it to the offender, point out the littering and then throw out the trash. all well and good, but she wouldn't pick up litter that she didnt see being tossed out in front of her - so what was the real motivation there - living in a clean city, or pointing out the litterers moral flaw and her own superiority in this?

                                    1. re: jfood

                                      You said it, jfood. I'm so tired of these threads that I'm trying to avoid reading them as soon as I realize what they are. But it's like driving by an auto accident. And I believe the only one I'm effecting when I act that way is myself. It's toxic to ME and I'm trying to eliminate as much of that as I can from my life. Compassionately your, Mom aka Dad :)

                                    2. the store did do something - they decided that they will allow customers to take as much of this sort of peripheral stuff as they want, and not worry about it, as long as they are buying the stuff that gives the store its real profit margin. 99% of customers will not take more than they need, and the 1% that abuse it doesn't effect them enough to worry about. If they don't care if the guy takes 50 plates, maybe you shouldn't either

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: thew

                                        Exactly....they received the information, the store processed it, made a decision and moved on.

                                        Jfood does not remember needing to run that through a linear program when he received his MBA, learned that on the streets of NJ.

                                        1. re: thew

                                          Try being a cashier and confronting that type of customer. It will bring you a world of hurt.

                                          WF does engage in shrinkage prevention, some of it pretty aggressive. For a while, every time I shopped there on a Saturday someone would be getting arrested for a shoplifting. The first time it happened I asked the cashier about the police car out front, figuring it had to be something like drug dealing or someone going postal in the store but no, the police were leading out a well-heeled middle-aged lady for trying to boost something. I don't think they had cuffed her, but still.

                                          Thing is, though, you've got to call the police. You can't really do that for someone abusing freebies.

                                        2. Seriously?
                                          I really don't think you had anything to 'handle' in the first place. From your prespective, obviously, you've come up with a reason to tattle and you apparently think the people who run the store don't know how to run it.
                                          AT my local market there is unconventional behavior happening all day long. The very generous market has free samples, free coffee flowing continuously. One woman comes every day (so I've been told by a clerk) with a tray. She gathers all the free samples and several tiny cups of free coffee and sits down and eats her 'lunch'. This woman is not poor. She's an older woman, a little lonely and it's become her daily routine. She's a good customer and the owners of the store know what she's doing.
                                          Many people, undoubtedly, have complained and tattled but nobody changes her daily visit.
                                          Your asked the question and here's the answer from me....
                                          Let the store worry about their own profit margin.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: latindancer

                                            You will find that there are several threads on Chow that address situations similar to yours, where someone else's bad behavior engendered the poster's outrage/incredulity . There are responders who will consistantly state that it is none of your business to correct the wrongs of the world; there are those who are of the righteous indignation school of thought; and there are even responders who will somehow try to turn the situation around and try to make the OP look like the bad/stupid guy.

                                            Most retail employees are told not to engage with shoplifters, for a variety of reasons: potential litigation, fear of violence & etc. My daughter worked in a mall at Gap during college. The "shrinkage" was appalling. Employees watched shoplifers work in teams to boost merchandise, but were only allowed to call mall security. Sometimes security got there in time to catch the offender, and sometimes they didn't. The cost of the "shrinkage" was built into the cost that we honest shoppers pay. It was not uncommon to find piles of those electronic tag things stashed behind a pile of sweaters at the end of the day; the thieves having used a device to remove them easily. The only "defensive" technique that was used was to identify a suspicious shopper, then have a store employee shadow them closely: "can I help you find something?"; "let me tell you about our specials." Unfortunately the criminals often worked in teams, so the real shoplifter was off stealing stuff while the decoy's "personal shopper" was occupied shadowing.

                                            It IS possible that the individual you mentioned is a known eccentric whom the store tolerates, or otherwise secretly "bills" for items taken. It's also possible that they view their tolerence as part of their social responsibility. My gut feeling is that it just a lot easier for them to ignore it & rationalize that the money isn't really coming out of their pockets. In any event, short of writing a letter to the corporate entities at WFM, you've done what you could. You might make the decision not to shop there any more, knowing that dishonest behavior that YOU eventualy pay for is tolerated, but that's your choice.

                                            If, on the other hand, you were there with children and THEY noticed the stealing, that would be a different matter. You could not have allowed them to come away with the impression that the behavior was in any way proper.

                                          2. you know, it's interesting, the title of my post asked whether people thought THE STORE should have done something, yet, i now find myself fielding comments about and attacks on MY behavior and character. i simply wanted to open the discussion to get everyone's opinion because i wondered if i was overreacting...and it turned into a forum for scolding, moralizing, and suggestions that i am somehow "holier than thou." not only do i find that offensive and unnecessary, but if you're going to get on your soapboxes and begin snarking at me for having an opinion, perhaps you should take a look in the mirror at who's really being judgmental here.

                                            i'm hardly the "Bah, humbug" type. and had he appeared to be homeless or clearly very needy in some way, then yes, i would have offered to buy him a hot meal or to pay for his groceries - it wouldn't be the first time i've done so, nor the last. i give more of my money and time to help those less fortunate than i can even really afford to...but as i said, this guy drove off in a $50,000 car. he doesn't need my money. and before i get attacked yet again, i already stated up-thread that the response from lgss *did* start me wondering about the other potential reasons this man was doing what he did...and if there are reasons beyond his control, then i certainly do feel sorry for him.

                                            but AGAIN, my query was not about what any of US should have done...it was about whether you think the STORE has any sort of responsibility for responding to such events. and no, it should not necessarily have been the low man on the totem pole...but a store manager, or perhaps even (gasp!) the SECURITY personnel could have been summoned to address the situation.

                                            i typically enjoy the banter and occasional heated responses that evolve during these discussions, but this one has left a really sour taste in my mouth. apparently i've somehow personally offended a few of you, and obviously raised some hackles. that was not my intention, nor do i have any desire to continue to participate in the promotion of such negativity. so if all of you wish to continue on, you're obviously free to do so. but in the spirit of the season i've decided to remove myself from the conversation.

                                            Happy Holidays to all.

                                            oh, and re: the Starbucks "Pay it Forward" situation...

                                            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/582707

                                            5 Replies
                                            1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                              GHG, I enjoy reading your posts and hope this has not bummed you out in a major way. To be fair, you did say, " I'm really curious to hear what you all think of the situation, and how you might have handled it." Everyone who posts regularly on these boards know that we are not a shy bunch--you ask for an opinion, boy, will you get it!

                                              Take these posts for what they are worth: honest, uncensored responses that have engendered a forthcoming diagloue. Nothing more, nothing less. (Believe me, a friend of mine who posts on comic books boards showed me what went on there--let's just say that that the threads there make Chowhound a paradigm of manners and civility!)

                                              I hope you keep on posting, especially thought-provoking threads like this one, and don't take it personally.

                                              1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                                GHG unfortunately there are people in this world who see things differently. Perhaps your shoplifter of paper goods is a little crazy, or perhaps he says to himself I pay top prices for WF's foods so I am justified in taking paper plates back to my home/office/ where I am going later. Who knows what he does with them.

                                                I see it as no different to the customers who think they can put all the sweetnlows and sugar packets in their purse to save them buying them, all the butters and creamers go in too. Perhaps their thinking is that they have paid for them in some way at a restaurant. i wonder how many gas stations lose their sugars and creamers at the coffee stand. Or how people ask for more and more ketchup packets at the take out window, knowing they are only going to use 2 right now on their burger and the rest go home for later.

                                                When we had Hurricane Wilma down here there were lines and lines at the free county civic centers which were giving away water and one hot meal a day. You should have seen the Cadillacs and Lincoln Continentals and sports cars and Rolls Royces in the line. A friend of mine worked at one of these centers and he was amazed at the number of people who turned their noses up at the free meal. He said to them look are you hungry and in need or what? Their reply was I pay for this in my taxes so I am gonna take the meal regardless. People were still coming for water long after the stores had reopened simply because it was free. We had plenty of warning about Wilma yet 'rich' people still felt they had a 'right' to the free goods.

                                                1. re: smartie

                                                  I guess you can choose to go through life tarnishing the actions of everyone with the bad acts of a few -- and thus expecting the worst of people -- or you can choose to believe that people are basically good with a few bad apples thrown into the bunch for good measure.

                                                  As someone else pointed out, we all -- myself included -- have our lines in the sand, whether it's paper goods, ketchup packets, the ticket we do our damndest to get out of paying, or the jury duty we avoid like the plague. None of us is perfect.

                                                  1. re: bebevonbernstein

                                                    As Billy Joel sang..."And so it goes, and so it goes."

                                                2. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                                  Hopefully jfood did not offend you in the attackee category as he wrote above you did the right thing in telling the store. It is their store.

                                                  Other than wearing the "I am morally perfect" T-shirt many others posters feel justified in wearing it is one of those things that are outside your control. You did what you could and moved on.

                                                  Happy Holidays and don't letthe negativity get you down.

                                                3. We seem to have come full circle in this discussion, so before we go around and around, we're closing this thread. Thanks, all!