Organized Retail Theft: Retailers Set Themselves Up for Failure

Organized retail theft is a regular news story if you follow current events especially local news. The videos of bold and brazen thieves stealing arm loads of merchandise off of store shelves and from behind counter tops are shocking, frustrating and bewildering. The media reports on organized retail thefts and public outrage follows. Social media comments from the law and order crowd demand more aggressive actions from police and civilians up to shooting a shoplifter to prevent theft. However, the retailers never make a public statement about organized retail theft.

I worked in retail for different companies between 1998 and 2015. All but one was a national retail chain. Their attitude towards shoplifting is to not resist the shoplifter. Retail employees are not supposed to verbally say anything to a person stealing, refuse service such as not accepting a return that was shoplifted and employees are certainly not supposed to physically apprehend a shoplifter, not that I think an employee should do that.

When I worked retail shoplifters would come in and return stolen merchandise for a store credit which they later sell. Shoplifters would bring in stacks of perfectly folded sweaters in a variety of sizes with no receipt and not in a shopping bag from the store. We were directed to politely process the return and give the “customer” their gift card. This was around 2008.

Since I last worked for a retail chain websites such as Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist and Amazon have gained popularity. I’m sure that those sites are what drive organized retail theft. I’m sure retail executives didn’t see that coming even though they should have. But they shouldn’t have been so lax about shoplifting even when items were being stolen to be returned for gift cards to sell or to be sold at flea markets. Retail executives didn’t care and concerns about shoplifting weren’t worth their time. I don’t think their position on the matter has really changed.

Large retailers have made statements about how much is stolen from their stores. However, shrink which means unaccounted for merchandise and money is a part of store metrics by which managers are evaluated. There is a percentage that is acceptable and it’s exceptional and close to impossible to have zero shrink.

Retailers are threatening to close locations due to excessive shoplifting. I can understand closing a low performing store however, I find it a bit suspicious that stores in urban, low income locations are the stores that are under threat of closing. Are those stores honestly the only ones with a problem with shrink and shoplifting? I doubt it. They are also threatening to raise prices in order to cover shrink but they haven’t said what they plan to do to prevent loss.

Retailers and shopping centers had a problem with shoplifting years ago and chose to do nothing about it. It wasn’t worth their time and investment to try and decrease theft. They it made better business sense to absorb the loss. Thieves were emboldened by the indifference from retailers. Now internet web sites facilitate organized retail crime and it has gotten out of control. It’s the retailers fault! I’m not even sure that they care about the theft now. I think all the videos of retail theft are going to be used as excuses for raising prices.

Film Review: White Hot, the Rise and Fall of Abercrombie and Fitch

White Hot, the Rise and Fall of Abercrombie and Fitch is a documentary running on Netflix that tells the story about the retailer whose popularity peaked in the early 2000s. I would recommend this film if you are interested in fashion, marketing, pop culture, labor and civil rights or late nineties and early 2000s nostalgia. It covers all of that. It’s fairly short and I thought it was an interesting movie.

A & F was a very successful retailer that was a staple in every American shopping mall in the 2000s. I was aware of A & F but I was never impressed by their style. If my memory serves correctly they sold jeans, tees and button downs. Nothing special. I also recall that they were known for the clothes running very small. A & F didn’t really pull my trigger.

The company was notorious for being racist so there was no love loss between me and Abercrombie and Fitch. I’ve been in an A & F store one time. I browsed around one of their stores in the Kansas City area that has closed. I bought a pair of skinny jeans on clearance for about $10. There was nothing noteworthy or memorable about the experience.

White Hot discusses the marketing strategy of the company that made them very successful. The ads featured young, White, fit, natural looking men and women. Youth culture of today criticize A & F for promoting a specific beauty standard.

A & F was sued by some of their former store employees and some of them were interviewed for the documentary. I have worked several retail jobs. The practices described in the documentary are typical of retail companies. Retail is a very racist industry. The discrimination is evident if you’re familiar with the retail industry.

The difference between Abercrombie and other retailers is that they were very direct and brazen about their practices. A & F had manuals about who they saw fit to hire. They didn’t hire and recruit based on experience. They based on looks and were not customer service oriented at all.

They didn’t say they only wanted to hire White people but they discriminated against employees that didn’t fit their standard of attractiveness which is clearly White. Non White employees were written off the schedule or only allowed to work in the stock room if they were hired at all. Abercrombie and Fitch settled with former employees that sued them but the company never admitted wrong doing.

White Hot, the Rise and Fall of Abercrombie and Fitch is OK. You might enjoy it if you’re interested in the subject matter it covered. The film follows in the Netflix tradition of making documentaries of pop culture trends of the early 2000s. They have the benefit of hindsight and people who were directly involved have the opportunity to tell their story. I think they’re pretty fun but it’s not ground breaking film making.

The US Workforce Created it’s Own Problem

There is a labor shortage in America. This shortage is particularly prevalent in the service industry. Since businesses reopened from COVID lockdowns American workers have not rushed back to work in restaurants and retail establishments. I don’t care and I have no sympathy for the service sector.

I’ve had many service industry jobs. I know how they operate and why they are having problems. The service industry is racist, sexist, ageist and selfish. They see their team members as expendable unless they are young and White. A young, White person in an entry level job will be seen as someone who can be promoted and someone worth an investment from the company. Young, White, particularly male people are valued in the service sector. That’s who they want to have in front of customers and placed in leadership positions.

If you’re not young and White you are a grunt to the service sector. You are there to give lunch breaks, and give managers time off. You’re there to do work that managers don’t want to do when they don’t want to work. It doesn’t matter how long you work for an organization.

I’ve had jobs where a young Black man with tattoos and dreadlocks works in the stock room for years and is very knowledgeable about the store. The same can be said for middle aged women (often minorities) who perform well in a sales floor position for a matter of time yet are never invested in or promoted to higher paying, leadership positions if they apply. The service industry is rife with age discrimination and will find a reason to fire older workers. I suspect it has to do with health insurance payments.

Restaurants favor undocumented workers for back of the house positions. I assume they are able to hire and retain them for less. However, undocumented workers are often a transient population. Their roots are in a different country, not the US. They often move about the US from city to city. Undocumented workers can easily leave behind a job and burn bridges. It’s a lot easier for them to go elsewhere and even change their identity if needed. But that’s who the restaurant business preferred to hire. I bet many of them went home during the pandemic lock downs.

Most service industry jobs go by the mantra “We are going to do what’s best for the business” which translates to, to hell with you we are going to do what’s best for us. If you can’t meet our expectations we will find someone who will. If a retail or restaurant employee has to take time off from work their manager doesn’t make any effort to accommodate them. They will simply write them off the schedule and fill their hours with other team members or new applicants.

The service industry doesn’t hire most of it’s employees full time so they are able to hold hours over team members heads. Retail managers don’t make it known but employees are in a contest for hours. Employees that do things like open the most credit cards, sign up the most customers for the company loyalty program etc. are given more hours and therefore make more money.

A person can have a job at a department store and work thirty hours a week consistently over a period of time. If management hires someone new they can give the new person the hours simply because they fit the image that the company wants to project, i.e. young, White. This translates into the first employee losing money that they obviously need in order to make a living.

The working conditions of the service industry are terrible. Service industry jobs require working nights, weekends and holidays. Typically, a service industry employee will be on their feet several hours a day walking across concrete floors. They also have to deal with a lot of different people from managers, to co workers and customers. Dealing with so many different people is exhausting. To top it all off the wages are low. All of these conditions take a negative toll on a person over time.

The service industry has never been glamorous but thanks to social media we now see exactly what people think of service industry employees. I’ve seen on line discussion about how service industry jobs are kid jobs and people that work in them that are older than eighteen are just stupid. During the pandemic numerous videos circulated the internet of restaurant and retail workers being treated horribly by customers. Besides rudeness some service industry jobs like working at gas stations are some of the most dangerous jobs in the country.

The COVID lock downs were a blessing to many. It put the world on pause and gave people a moment to think. A pause or separation can be a great thing. It gives you time to reassess things. I believe service industry workers were use to their grind and went along with their lives with a degree of contentment. Once ties were severed with that industry they realized how nice it was to not have people in their face all the time and they had no desire to return to that environment.

The service industry has competition that it didn’t have in years past. People can start an on line business or place a service such as gardening or tutoring on Craigslist in order to make money. The service industry has failed to realize this and they failed to compete for talent. They took for granted that they would always have a plethora of applicants to burn through.

This is a case of having little to no respect or appreciation for the people that were willing to work with you. It’s fun to watch the service sector unable to cope without the people that treated as disposable. Besides that COVID took the lives of a lot of people in the service industry. Some of their former employees may have died or have lingering health problems from Coronavirus which makes them unable to return to work.

Big business has been threatening American workers for years with automation. I think now would be a great time for them to implement their robot workforce. That will be good for another laugh. I’m sure they’ll find that humans are easier and cheaper to work with even with wage increases. Good luck with all the software upgrades and system shut downs.

This is what happens when you are rigid, greedy and disrespectful towards people that helped build your business and industry. The labor shortage is being blamed on unemployment insurance by politicians. Even if that is true unemployment benefits shouldn’t pay more than a paycheck. The US workforce created this problem with it’s poor business practices.

Black Friday

It’s another Black Friday in the U.S.A.  I’ve seen several memes and hash tags on social media encouraging Black Americans to boycott Black Friday this year.  Some of the memes are ridiculous and historically inaccurate in their implications.  But overall I share their point of view.  Black people should not break their necks to throw money at White controlled retailers.

I am a college educated, underemployed Black woman that has worked in retail for many years.  Retail is an extremely racist business.  A lot of retailers only want to hire Blacks for menial, low paying jobs and they only want to hire Whites for jobs that have good career and earning potential.  I have seen this happen at various organizations that I’ve worked for.  I’ve even held retail management positions but I was treated so poorly in those positions that they did not last long and I was not able to build a long term career based on those opportunities.

I’ve also noticed that retail seems to be very sexist as well.  I’ve observed at many retailers that are supported by women through patronage and labor have a gay male manager.  Why on Earth would they hire a man to run a Forever 21 or Charlotte Russe when surely there is a young woman that is capable of the job?  All of the male, gay managers that I have seen in these positions are White.

We all have to shop at some point.  I am interested in learning to sew but I don’t think I’ll ever be a person that will make all of my own clothes.  Unfortunately for Black Americans that means that at some point we will end up supporting a White owned company that creates poverty and hardship for Blacks.  But I will be damned if I sleep outdoors to have the opportunity to throw my money at these people.

Here is a list of retailers that I have worked for in the past that gave me the shaft and I believe that it is because I am a Black woman.

  1. DSW Shoes
  2. Kay Jewelers
  3. Zales
  4. Helzberg Jewelers
  5. Guess
  6. Express
  7. Eddie Bauer
  8. Saks Fifth Avenue Off Fifth

Happy holidays everyone.  Choose wisely where you spend your hard earned dollars.  If they wouldn’t hire you don’t hire them!