The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia


June 14, 2014

Free: Always the low price ... always

From The Back Porch

Daddy collected a lot of things he never used. He’d start every new year with a dozen calendars when he barely had enough wall space for three. I once told him that he could never wear all the free caps merchants had given him even if he were a 12-headed monster.

Daddy’s response? “If it’s free, I’ll take it.”

Many Americans today must be responding, “If I take it, it’s free.”

In two recent incidents at Wal-Mart stores in West Virginia, I talked to a couple of employees about inventory loss. One said people were offended when she asked to see their receipts upon departing the store. She explained that store lost $1 million in thefts last year.

At the second store when I showed my receipt, an employee told me its losses two years ago were $1.2 million, which soared in the past year to $1.7 million.

That’s nearly $3 million in stolen inventory from just two stores in a region where people are generally God-fearing, law-abiding folks. Imagine the losses in other places.

Theft is a multibillion enterprise in America, according to the 25th Annual Retail Theft Survey published by Jack L. Hayes International Inc. Hayes International consults with retail, industrial, distribution and manufacturing companies to help them reduce inventory theft and improve risk management.

The numbers are staggering. The average retail value of stolen inventory is $50 per instance. The 2012 estimates are based on several surveys and projected by Hayes International employees:

- Employee and shoplifting thefts average $11 billion to $15 billion each year. The firm surveyed 23 major retailers.

- Daily losses are $30 million to $41 million.

- Per hour losses are $1.3 million to $1.7 million.

- Per minute losses are $21,000 to $28,000. Every minute, 400 to 550 incidents of employee theft or shoplifting occur. That’s a lot of sticky fingers.

The grand total is $5.6 billion in inventory loss. In many instances, the only thing retailers can do is watch it walk out.

When I worked at a home improvement retailer last summer, I was told specifically not to stop a customer even if I saw the person take something. There is liability in false accusations, and it’s difficult to prove intent. The person could say he or she forgot to pay for the item. One of the employees was a loss prevention specialist, but I didn’t really know what he did to stop thefts. I was told that was not my job.

So who pays for all these thefts? We do. America has become a society of taking what it wants regardless of having money to pay for it or the threat of jail or prison. Generally, we expect children to grow out of that phase by about age 5.

When a clerk rings up your bill, you are paying for what you bought and a portion of what someone stole from the store that day. Some knuckleheads even brag about their illegal looting. It’s not cool. It’s not amusing. It’s not legal.

These kinds of thefts are for selfish, greedy reasons. People rarely steal food. The poor are often the most honest folks.

Madonna is right. We are living in a material world. I’m a little tired of paying for somebody else’s new flat-screen TV when I’m using a 30-year-old version I got when I graduated college. You know what? It still works. I don’t need to steal one.

— Young is a freelance columnist for The Register-Herald. E-mail:

© 2014 by Nerissa Young

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