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New Loblaw’s Controversy: Scan Receipt To Escape Store!

It’s churning up a lot of online and mainstream media mud this week. But it’s been two months since the story broke. Rights advocates and others are up in arms over the supermarket’s new plan to make you scan your receipt before leaving Loblaw’s…

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Supermarket theft is a serious and growing concern. More and more desperate folks are resorting to shoplifting and outright grab-and-run tactics just to get enough food to feed their families. There are also claims that the more brazen thieves are selling their goods on the black market. When you’re selling stolen goods, whatever price you can get is 100 percent profit! And there have been suggestions that organized crime is getting into the grab-and-run ‘business’.

What Loblaw’s is doing

The supermarket chain is piloting a new scheme to help detect shoplifters. Scanners have been installed at 4 southern Ontario stores. Shoppers are instructed to scan their cash register receipts before exiting the store. If you don’t, and try to push thrpo0ugh the new metal exit gate, a loud security alarm goes off, and you’re humiliated in front of everyone else in the building. Whether you stole something or not.

The system is aimed at stopping shoppers who’ve used the self-checkout ‘lane’ from sneaking products out of the store without paying for them.

According to a CBC report, the scanner simply checks the barcode at the bottom of the receipt, which records whether you paid anything or not.

Major issues arise

“It’s very intrusive. It makes you feel like a thief,” shopper Paul Zemaitis told CBC.

“You had some people, especially a lot of elderly folks, were completely unaware this was a new thing, and were just pushing their carts through the closed gate,” said customer Jonathan Hayes. “There were alarms going off maybe every one to two minutes. […] It just introduced so much extra chaos.”

Hays also noted that, the next time he visited the store, a week later, the scanner was tagged ‘out of order’. Clearly, Loblaw’s decided the new tactic was more trouble than it was worth.

Aside from raising customers’ hackles, the system reportedly caused lineups at the exits, resulting in significant delays in exiting the stores. Causing some shoppers to feel trapped.

Also… I want to know what happens when you go into the store looking for a specific product and don’t find it. And try to exit without a receipt. Do you trip the alarm, and become held hostage until an employee come to unlock the exit gate? That would be ridiculous. But knowing what I do about the system, I’m guessing that’s what would happen.

Not the first fail…

Loblaw’s actually tried posting human receipt checkers at its exits – like COSTCO always has. But that idea flopped hard. And it was discontinued without fanfare shortly after its inception.

I don’t know how you COSTCO regulars out there feel about it. But I always resented having a large, security-guard-type ’employee’ checking my receipt against the contents of my cart before I was allowed to leave the store. That’s just one reason why I didn’t renew my COSTCO ‘membership’ after the first year I had one.

Legal ramifications

Toronto-based consumer advocate, lawyer Daniel Tsai also told CBC ‘retailers can’t prevent shoppers from leaving the store unless they have evidence of wrongdoing’.

“If they’re stopping you, and you feel like you don’t have an ability to leave, and there is no basis for them to detain you, that qualifies as false imprisonment,” he said. “”Customers already feel imprisoned enough by high prices,” he said. “The fact that you make regular shoppers feel like criminals, that takes it a step too far.”

Tsai emphasizes, store operators can’t legally enforce receipt checks unless their staff witnesses a shopper stealing. That legal stand applies equally to human receipt checking as it does to scanner checking.

My take

And let’s not forget, this scanner controversy is surfacing at the same time Loblaw’s is facing an angry onslaught from more than one grassroots organizing group asking customers to steal from the chain, and boycott it’s stores.

The scanners have not shown up at my local Loblaw’s store yet. Based on the dismal, crashing failure of the pilot project, and the legal and customer relations issues surrounbdi9ng their use, I don’t expect the scanners will ever show up at my local Loblaw’s. At least I fervently hope they don’t.

If I was ever stopped by a receipt scanner, I would say, “This is insulting. You’re assuming I’m guilty until proven innocent. I refuse to submit to your ‘1984’, Big Bother totalitarianism.” And I’d definitely switch supermarkets. Then and there.

~ Maggie J.

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