Monday, September 03, 2012

They're Watching You, Me, and Everyone Else

Recently, I walked into a well-known office supply store, politely declined offers of help from two eager-beaver sales associates, and headed to the ink cartridge display. Right away, something seemed off. Then it dawned on me that there weren’t any ink cartridges on the shelves, just rows of tickets where the cartridges should have been. The tickets read: Take ticket and bring to register.

I didn’t see a ticket for the cartridge I needed, so I convinced myself that the store didn’t sell that type. Or was out of it. Or something. Yes, I could have asked, but I wasn’t that desperate to spend twenty-five dollars. My printer wasn’t in imminent danger of running out of ink. I thought it might be nice to have a spare, but it really wasn’t that important.

So I abandoned my original plan and wandered into the school supplies area, searching for cheap notebooks and other bargains. After telling a third sales associate that I was “just looking,” I decided that I didn’t see anything I wanted to spend my money on. And, anyway, Other Half was waiting impatiently in the vehicle.

On my way out, I stopped to rummage through the sale bins near the front of the store. That’s when I noticed that the cashier was wearing a headset. Hmm, when did that start? I didn’t remember seeing a cashier wearing a headset on my previous visits. I figured she was on the phone with a customer until I heard her say, “Woman in pink flowered shirt and black slacks heading in the direction of the copy and print area.”

Yes, she was describing a customer who had just entered the store. And she wasn’t being quiet about it either. I wasn’t that close to the register. However, I had no trouble hearing the cashier as she alerted the troops. I thought it was more than likely that the woman in the pink flowered shirt and black slacks had heard her too.

Looking around, I spotted several other associates who were also wearing headsets. Oh, I had noticed employees wearing headsets in other stores. But I had never heard of store personnel using them to track each customer the minute he or she stepped into the store. Although I suspected that this was some new security measure, I thought it was a bit annoying.

I was even more annoyed when I realized that the employees must have tracked every move I made. Now I knew why an associate seemed to pop up every time I turned sideways. Silly me. I had thought they were simply being overzealous because, at that time, there seemed to be more employees than customers in the store. I wondered if my very laid-back outfit, an oversized white T-shirt and well worn faded jeans, tagged me as a potential shoplifter.

As I headed to the door, the cashier noticed me and asked if I had found everything I was looking for. My first instinct was to suggest that she should be more discreet when describing customers and their likely destinations. But I was brought up to be nice. So I told her what I wanted, adding that the store apparently didn’t carry that type of ink cartridge.

“Oh,” she said, pointing at the wall behind the registers, “we have those.”

Okaaaay. I’m in that store at least once a week. How could I have not noticed all those shelves stacked with what seemed like a half-zillion ink cartridges? “Have people stolen a lot of those?” I asked.

The cashier nodded.

As she handed me the receipt for my purchase, another customer walked into the store. “Man wearing plaid shirt and carrying messenger bag, heading toward computers,” she announced to the outlying associates.

“Wow,” I said, “you really must have a lot of shrinkage in this store.”

“Yes,” she said, “we do.”

Sadly, I understood why. Although I like certain stores in that area, it’s not the greatest neighborhood. I realize that it’s in the store’s best interest to maximize security in order to minimize losses. However, tracking every customer who walks in the door just seems too tacky and a tad disrespectful. And that policy probably will not encourage people to shop there.

On the way home, I imagined how the cashier might have described me: Woman wearing jeans, a tan bucket hat, and a white T-shirt that reads Saguaro Romance Writers. She’s dragging a blue rolling back pack. Stopped at the ink cartridge tickets. Hmm … looks confused.

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