Have Best Buy Staff Changes Led To Increase In Shoplifting?

Best Buy has been making more than a few changes in recent months, and one Best Buy employee writes in to tell us that he believes some staffing changes have led to an increase in stolen items going out the front door.

The anonymous tipster says that the store he works at has “gotten rid of our ‘receipt checkers’ as you call them (asset protection or loss prevention to us)” and that this has already resulted in more shoplifting.

“With no one to watch the door or keep an eye on customers with the security camera, the responsibility of keeping an eye out for shoplifters has fallen directly on the sales associates,” he explains. “It’s hard to keep an eye on a customer who refuses to be helped when you’re already helping other customers.”

The tipster says he’s also heard about tales about other Best Buys that have been similarly affected. He claims he heard of one store $13,000 worth of product from just the camera section.

“Just a heads up to the changes we’ve made in order to keep you, the customer, happy and less annoyed when you enter and leave our store,” he writes.

What the tipster doesn’t mention is that a lack of loss prevention staffers would also make it easier for sticky-fingered employees to walk out the door with stolen merch.

When reached for comment, a Best Buy rep told Consumerist, “As you know, we have rolled out a new U.S. operating model, which includes restructuring teams within the stores – but we did not reduce our overall number of loss prevention positions. I cannot speak to any changes made by local management at a particular store.”

We know that some of you are also currently employed at Best Buy, so we’d love to hear from you (in an equally anonymous fashion) to see if this tipster’s claims are accurate or if it’s an anomaly — or maybe he’s exaggerating. Let us know in the comments or shoot us an e-mail at tips@consumerist.com.

Update: The original tipster clarifies that The Loss Prevention/’receipt checkers’ are “still part of the store, but their role is now to walk around the store looking out for stolen merch, quizzing the staff on important store numbers, and occasionally helping out customers as well. Honestly, it’s more of an afterthought, as the main focus of our store is selling the products and attaching all the plans and so forth. No more receipt checking, no putting little stickers on products being returned, and no one at the front to direct customers to certain departments.”

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  1. Olivia Neutron-Bomb says:

    By “already helping other customers,” I assume he means helping by staying as far from them as possible. That would explain why there are always a group of “sales associates” standing around in a far corner of the store, talking amongst themselves and avoiding eye contact with the customers.

    • JollySith says:

      YMMV. I stopped going to my local best buy because I am more knowledgeable than most of the staff and don’t want to have to fend off over eager sales reps evey time I slow down to look at something

      • TrustAvidity says:

        That’s more my situation. I find myself resisting correcting the sales reps and then trying to avoid them while perusing. That’s one of the main reasons why I haven’t been in one in quite some time.

      • Jesse says:

        Kind of like Ron Swanson in Parks & Recreation when he goes to Lowe’s

    • crabbysam says:

      I was in a Best Buy store yesterday when the opposite was the case, I went in to buy a Blu Ray movie (Hunger Games)

      I was mobbed by two sets of Best Buy employees within 15 seconds of me entering the store. It was actually pretty comical seeing them manuever in teams.

      I mean seriously, I don’t need help from four employees to select and carry up to the counter a Blu Ray movie.

      (This is a low traffic Best Buy in Sarasota, Fl.)

      • fgarvin says:

        I once walked out of a BB because I was approached by three sales staff within 90 seconds. The first two came within thirty seconds of each other after I started perusing PC games. Seriously – PC games and seriously – the second one must have seen the back of the first one as he approached me. The third came as I walked a few aisles toward the front of the store looking for an expeditious exit.

        I told the third clone that I was leaving because I couldn’t shop in their store without an “associate” approaching me every thirty seconds.

        “Can I help you?” is one thing. It’s the ridiculous spiel that comes after you decline that grates on you. It can never be something like “I’m here if you have any questions.” Instead it has to be something like “Well, if you need any help or have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask me or any other associate in the store with any questions you might have. We’re here to help you blah, blah, blah.”

  2. VicMatson says:

    Something tells me the story should read “Security people get the boot, leaving the ones who know that it’s open season a free for all”!

  3. PragmaticGuy says:

    Years ago I had a friend who worked at Crazy Eddie and there was no loss prevention to speak of and not a lot of inventory control either. He had the most magnetic hands I ever saw. Best Buy is losing money like mad and if they don’t do something to reverse this course they’ll be another Circuit City before long,

  4. lunasdude says:

    I was in our local BB here in Albuquerque for the first time in over a year (yay Amazon!) the other day to buy a wiring harness for a car stereo and noticed that the store had changed significantly!
    lots of merchandise gone, store seemed very run down and empty and no receipt checkers to be seen!
    Everyone seemed like they could care less, sad to see BB going the way of Circuit City.
    Oh and that wiring harness? they did not have in stock despite saying they did on the website.
    Back to Amazon.

  5. Overheal says:

    This one probably falls under the Budget Man Problem: Someone looking at P&L Reports and deciding asset Protection was costing too much against the shrink that was still occurring. So what does a publicly traded company do in order to provide more profit to day traders?

    The bemusing part will be when they look at the same data a year from now and that shrink explodes to double or triple whatever the current figure is. Hard to really measure theft that was prevented from occurring on a piece of paper.

  6. wombats lives in [redacted] says:

    Corporate has systems in place which track the inventory, looks for mismatches, and determines dollars lost to theft. They also look at the overhead of the employment of the additional employees, the loss of repeat customers, and attributions causing this. After all the formulas are crunched they determine to make a change. The tipster may be accurate in their claim, but it is very short sighted and does not account for long term costs.

  7. vliam says:

    Lost prevention people are always quick to point out that a proactive staff is the most effective method of reducing shoplifting.

    However, staffing is also the biggest factor in controllable expenses at the store level. In an effort to boost the bottom line, this area has been cut drastically in many retail stores. When the resulting shrinkage is recorded following an inventory, the blame falls squarely on the store manager. The persons that cut the payroll budgets at corporate are unaccountable for the consequences of their actions. Essentially, you end up with a single individual that is solely responsible for the increase and denied the resources to address the problem.

  8. GMFish says:

    About fifteen years ago I exchanged a monitor (giant CRT) to Best Buy. They got one from the stock, opened it to see if it was actually there, and sent me out the of the store with my receipt.

    I got to thinking, what would stop me from simply walking out with a new monitor while I carried an unrelated receipt?

    Apparently nothing.

  9. Bob A Dobalina says:

    Our local Best Buy has closed down and blocked off all the registers. They even turned the lights off over that section of the store. You have to go to so-called customer service and wait in line with all of the pissed off people who have to wait 20 minutes for the clerk to find someone who knows anything

    The door nazi told me they were “remodeling.” Really? Why would you close a section of the store before construction starts? And why has it been that way for three weeks?

    I have not been there lately (I only go for cheap stuff I need right away) but I am sure the door nazi is gone now as well

  10. TheMansfieldMauler says:

    Far more product walks out the back door than the front.

    • Emperor Norton I says:

      Correct!
      In a Forbes” article from about 15 years ago, it told of how Fry’s sends top level managers from the home office in San Jose to store. They padlock the dumpsters, put them on a truck back to San Jose, dump them out in a warehouse, go through it & see if the employees are deliberately throwing merchandise out to recover later after the store closes.

  11. pexxoum123@gmail.com says:

    I work for Best Buy in a Loss Prevention role. The company has not done away with loss prevention, but decided to remodel it. We no longer stand at the front to sticker incoming merchandise, monitor cameras, or check receipts on outgoing merchandise. The “Asset Protection Specialist” role was eliminated, and the new roles of “Asset Protection Lead” and Asset Protection Associate” were created. Former APS employees(including myself) were given termination papers and were prepared to take severance based on the number of years spent employed by Best Buy. We were able to apply for these new positions. There is one APL in every store, and a number of APAs depending on the size of the store. A large number of stores do not employ any APAs. The new Asset Protection Lead role is designed to take a proactive approach to shrink , and to focus less on external theft as it only creates about 35% percent of the company’s loss. Our focus now is on system errors, internal investigations, and safety as these three categories account for the majority of the company’s loss. We walk the store in the same uniform with objectives of keeping employees in their designated zones to ensure customers who need assistance get it, contacting and matching up customers with salesmen, conducting various audits aimed at both customer and employee safety, and assisting store leadership in running the sales floor. We can still use the store’s cameras when we see it as necessary, but no longer check receipts. The company believes that the money spent on loss prevention has in the past only combated external loss, and believes this new model will be better for both profitability and customer experience in our stores. If anyone has any questions, feel free to ask me.

    • Hagetaka says:

      So basically since BB has shifted the focus from “external theft”, by default the focus is now internal theft, right?

      What I don’t see is how removing someone from the front doesn’t exacerbate the most basic scam of all- someone picking something off the shelf and claiming it as a return. If you don’t have a guy stickering returns, this becomes the easiest con to pull at all.

  12. GitEmSteveDaveHatesChange says:

    Just removing someone like a greeter will increase shoplifting. In a lot of my jobs, I was taught that just acknowledging someone that walks through the door makes them less likely to steal. They feel “watched” and it makes them a little paranoid, and they tend to think they may still be being watched as they walk through the store.

  13. Guppy06 says:

    “What the tipster doesn’t mention is that a lack of loss prevention staffers would also make it easier for sticky-fingered employees to walk out the door with stolen merch.”

    This right here. Correlation doesn’t mean causation, and an equally valid hypothesis is that the reduction in the number of employees has increased the dissatisfaction of those that remain, encouraging them to take a little extra “compensation.”

    It’s already been demonstrated that storefronts lose more money to employees than to customers, regardless.

    • lyontaymer30 says:

      LP isn’t just there to keep customer from stealing, they’re there to keep other employees from stealing as well. When my friend worked at BB, anytime he left the store he was checked. And if he bought something, he had to have his receipt showing that he bought to prove he didn’t steal it either. So it could an employee(s) or it could definitively just be the consumer. For some reason consumers are reluctantly to realize that most stealing is done by consumers.

  14. samonela says:

    Go ahead and increase the prices to offset your Shrink problems.

    I don’t shop there.

  15. Kuri says:

    Well, I was going to go shopping for a new keyboard. Looks like best Buy will just be a showroom then.

  16. Jawaka says:

    Wow, so receipt checkers actually DID prevent theft.

    Go figure…

    • sparc says:

      i remember stories maybe 15 years ago that people would walk out with whole cart loads of electronics out the front door.

      I imagine it’s the same scenario now where there’s nobody to even keep an eye on grand theft of that scale anymore.

  17. cactus jack says:

    “Just a heads up to the changes we’ve made in order to keep you, the customer, happy and less annoyed when you enter and leave our store,” he writes.

    Only if you’re a middle aged white man or woman. We’ll still demand receipts bag check you other folks.

  18. Crackpot says:

    “He claims he heard of one store $13,000 worth of product from just the camera section.”

    I think you accidentally a word.

    Also, it’s interesting to note that they’re now putting loss prevention responsibilities on the very employees who they fire for getting involved:

    http://consumerist.com/2011/05/should-best-buy-have-fired-employee-for-chasing-down-a-shoplifter.html

    http://consumerist.com/2009/08/best-buy-employees-fired-for-attempting-to-stop-knife-wielding-shoplifters.html

    Damned if you do and damned if you don’t?

    • mianne prays her parents outlive the TSA says:

      There are protocols that LP personnel have to follow. They need to observe someone concealing merchandise, they can’t lose sight of them for a second, otherwise they have to assume the item was set down, they have to ensure that the individual did not pay for the item–consider a grocery store where you might ask the checker to add a newspaper and bag of ice to your receipt, and you pick them up on your way out the store. Only then, are they typically authorized to stop the person as they attempt to leave the store with the purloined goods. “Excuse me, but we need to have a word about the camera you placed into your left coat pocket. Please step this way.” That (plus or minus a couple of steps depending on the jurisdiction) is how loss prevention is properly done.

      Miss some of these steps and you find out that the camera in their pocket was one that they own and brought into the store, and you’re sued for false arrest, unlawful detention, and/or kidnapping. Similarly, chasing after someone Dirty Harry style through the parking lot or after the shoplifter brandishes a weapon is likely to cause injury to the shoplifter, the store employee, customers and/or bystanders leading to more exposure to lawsuits.

      The only thing LP personnel should be doing after someone runs out the door with a stereo or whatnot is writing down a description of the individual, their getaway vehicle if possible, an account of what happened, and then contact the police and nearby stores about the incident. Breaking someone’s collar bone to prevent them from getting away with a television will definitely get you fired, sued, and possibly even face criminal assault charges.

      • Crackpot says:

        That was exactly my point. LP has a 5/6-step process they must follow or they make the company liable. Now Best Buy is talking about getting rid of trained LP, and placing the burdon back on the employees, who aren’t trained, and who has been fired in the past for doing it incorrectly. That strikes me as problematic.

  19. sqeelar says:

    The local BB had a door alarm that sounded whenever anyone used the exit. They claimed it was broken and would be fixed so it only scanned for unchecked merchanize.

    The repair involved closing the store for good. Best Buy became the symbol for why you should always order on the internet instead of fighting traffic to a brick and morter.

  20. sparc says:

    If crap is getting stolen only the employees and existing customers are penalized. Prices go up or they start trimming more staff to cut costs and offset the losses. Never ending spiral till the whole thing collapses.

  21. broncos_fan says:

    I know someone who sells on Amazon and ships her merchandise to their warehouses for storage. She encountered a shrink problem, not with the higher end electronics she sells, but with food items. Apparently Amazon checks their workers carefully when leaving the warehouses, so they only pilfer what they can eat on site.

    I can’t harbor much outrage over this, not when they’re working in utterly miserable conditions for crappy wages…

  22. Budala says:

    There is still the DirecTV guy walking around the store trying to sell service, a good sign to him is that if I’m not in the TV section then most likely I don’t care about tv channels.

    Now to this story. It wouldn’t surprise me if in the near future we hear that Best Buy is filing bankruptcy. When I was working there, some 8 years back everybody in the store was responsible for minimizing shrink and the employees got a bonus if the store stayed under the shrink number, not sure what is happening now.

    In my days at the now no longer existing Circuit city only the managers where allowed to stop a thief, my responsibility was to see the thief pocket the item, follow the thief so the item doesn’t get dropped by the thief and at the same time try to get a manager to stop the thief. Yeah I waived a whole lot of unpaid merchandise out of the door as I couldn’t stop the thief myself. The store surveillance was pointing towards the registers, guess the $500-1000 in the register was more important than the several thousand dollars of merchandise on the shelves. In the 2 years I worked there I don’t remember a single meeting where it was pointed out that a thief was caught and was being prosecuted, now the grocery store next door had a company do detective work for them, saw police cars in front of the store several times a week. The grocery store is still in business.

  23. evilpete says:

    $13,000 worth of product sounds like a lot but I would like to hear the before & after statistics….

  24. Eifnor says:

    I went to Best Buy many years ago. Made a purchase and had to wait in line to get out of the store while receipt checker was checking receipts. I haven’t been back.

  25. HowlingMad56 says:

    The AP or LP personnel were given other opportunities within the store. It is open season at Best Buy for those who look to apply the old 5-finger discount. Make no mistake, Best Buy will be the place to steal this holiday season. While some of those that wore the yellow shirt were a bit over zealous with checking receipts, they did provide a service in directing customers and acting as a deterrent. While it may work on paper in terms of saving the company money, they will lose nearly the same amount if not more in theft.

  26. kataisa says:

    Conveniently missing from this story is the fact that a store’s biggest thefts occur by its own employees and even managers.

    The more miserable the employee(s), the more likely they are to steal.

    Moral of the story: treat your employees and customers like sentient human beings instead of like prison numbers, or a demographic sales target.

  27. Gehasst says:

    Loss prevention is always talking to a cute associate (female) at the store whenever I go in the local one near me (South County Store, St. Louis, MO). They could care less about checking receipts, or even really caring if the alarm goes off when you go out the door.