Monday, June 30, 2008

Busted: Confessions of an Unintentional Shoplifter

I got caught shoplifting on Saturday morning.

That’s another retail industry first for yours truly and certainly a lead I never expected to write.

Ignorance is not an excusable alibi so the fact that I didn’t mean to steal something is irrelevant.

Long story short: I paid for a 10-lb. bag of ice; pulled a 20-lb. bag out of the Food Lion freezer and proceeded out the door. The cashier manning the one check-out lane that was open before 8 o’clock Saturday morning, politely but firmly interrupted my exit.

Since I’m not writing this blog from a cell, the story is fortunately about how this young man handled the apprehension—not about my nefarious behavior.

Food Lion had evidently done a superlative job training its associates on loss prevention.

The young man, probably in his late teens, possibly 20ish, excused himself from the three or four people waiting in his lane as he walked over to me and inquired: “Did you mean to buy a 20-lb. bag of ice?”

“No, I thought this was the smaller bag,” I said—as he took the bag from me, held it up and pointed to the large “20-lb.” imprint on the bag.

I was beyond humiliated and apologetic. He returned the 20-lb. bag, handed me the 10-lb. size I had paid for, and appeared to accept that I was merely absent-minded rather than criminal.

He stopped the shrink. He did it professionally. He exercised appropriate judgment and he resumed his cashier duties with limited interruption to the other customers he was serving.

Lesson 1: Food Lion had taught him what to do.

The second take-away message speaks to the generational differences. All you baby-boomer execs out there take note: tattoos and body piercings aside, these Gen X’ers possess an innate ability to react with confidence and poise.

Confronted with a similar situation when we were in our teens, most of us would have sought out a store manager to intercept an older adult who we suspected of shoplifting. Authority was earned through seniority, either in position or age. Not so with today’s emerging workforce—and I for one applaud the initiative and leadership potential of our next greatest generation.

—Connie Gentry

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