Walmart and Public Shame

Walmart has officially taken to engaging in state-sponsored public shaming for shoplifters:

Earlier this year, Lisa King Fithian entered the self-checkout lane at the Wal-Mart store in her hometown of Attalla, Ala., with a lava lamp and a pet playpen. According to court documents, she then failed to scan the two items, worth $26.97, to add them to her bill and tried to leave the store. Fithian, 46, later pleaded guilty to theft in court, although she maintained the entire incident was a misunderstanding.

Fithian's sentence was unusual. The local judge, Kenneth Robertson, had been thinking about shoplifting penalties that would be different from the fines and brief jail terms, which tend to be ineffective. He talked with the local Wal-Mart Stores manager about having Fithian go out in public with a sign around her neck declaring her crime. The manager, Neil Hawkins, gave the green light. So one Saturday Fithian wore two sandwich-board signs that declared, "I am a thief; I stole from Wal-Mart."

Since then, this town of 6,859 has become a real-life experiment in whether shaming can reduce shoplifting. More than 20 people have endured the modern-day version of The Scarlet Letter in recent months…

Wal-Mart executives have been debating the optimal shoplifting policies for its stores…But earlier this month, it decided to get more aggressive.

The article is an interesting read. Two things to pay attention to:

1) If you are a taxpayer you should be very pissed. Cops, Lawyers and Judges have to be mobilized to do nonsense work for Wal-Mart when it should be doing things like dealing with domestic abuse, murderers and drunk drivers. All to deal with the menance of some 13-year dipshit stealing a Linkin Park CD, whose bulked margins are insured against.

2) As anyone who has worked in, or around, low-wage jobs, can tell you, most theft is from a company's own employees. And the industry certainly believes this – 50% of theft is from employees (and 20% from vendor fraud or general errors). And Why shouldn't they? Poor wages, shitty benefits, 70% turnover, low prospects of advacement – it is the ideal situation for employee theft. Costco offers a higher wage rate, has a tenth of the employee turnover and (surprise) has almost zero (~.2%) loss rate here. (Of course it is harder to steal [the bulk] items from Costco, bit its loss ratio is ~10% of walmart; shop-lifting can't explain all of that).

Shaming in the public sphere is a great way to distract attention, and distracting from their scorched-earth employee relations tactics is exactly what Wal-mart is in the business of doing. And it does it well.

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8 Responses to “Walmart and Public Shame”

  1. peggy Says:

    Good grief.

    Fuckin' Wal-Mart.

  2. Samantha Says:

    I have a friend who is an environmentalist, and he recently made me aware of the fact that wal-mart is going sustainable. I'm no fan of wal-mart, by any means, but, as this article says, "[...] when an organization this large pushes for environmental action, through its own practices and the demands it makes on its suppliers, the impacts can be enormous."

    I find it interesting trying to predict the long-term effects of what wal-mart is doing (such as eventually economically contolling organic food production?). read this for the rest: http://www.sustainablebusiness.com/features/feature_template.cfm?ID=1311

  3. Mike Says:

    Wal-mart, by fronting and placement of certain goods, can really effect the sale of individual items; so when they started an effort to front/sell compact fluorescent light bulbs to households, I was really impressed. I think that was beyond just making profits – it can't be a huge seller for them, but that little act probably balances out quite a bit of energy usage for people who suddenly have them in their mind.

    Plus it's one thing for Al Gore to try and sell compact fluorescent bulbs to lower/middle America – Walmart has, for lack of any better word, cred in that market, so if they are selling it people may move around to it more. Or so I think.

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  5. Zoe Murphy Says:

    employee relations is very very important in any business establishment~,,

  6. Lucas Parker Says:

    the boss and the company should always maintain good employee relations to have a more efficient environment-"*

  7. Detox Health Diet Says:

    Employee relations should be given more importance in an office environment as well as on any other business establishment ..`

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