Published on: May 4, 2009
Got a number of emails regarding our piece last week about new video technology being used by Big Y Foods to make sure that checkout personnel aren’t making mistakes or giving away merchandise to friends or relatives for free, a practice called “sweethearting.” Industry statistics show that inventory losses at US supermarkets are more than $40 billion a year and that 44 percent of these losses stem from employee theft.
My comment:With loss numbers this high, it is perfectly understandable that companies would want to find a way to do something about it.
But I have to admit to being a little uneasy with this technological solution and the level of distrust that it seems to imply. I wouldn’t want to work for someone who was intent on capturing my every move on video…not because I have anything to hide, but because I would prefer that some level of trust exist between employer and employee.
Maybe it is impossible to hire smarter, to hire better…and to do so in such a way that these kinds of technological solutions are unnecessary. But I cannot help but think that we are poorer, not richer, for these kinds of surveillance techniques.MNB
user Mike Sommers replied:I’m going to have to disagree with your statement … With the numbers that you reported that US supermarkets lose each year, employees are responsible for the loss of 19.36 billion dollars. Apparently they have proven that they aren’t to be trusted and this kind of technology is warranted…like it or not.
user wrote:The hard cold fact is there are dishonest people willing to steal from the company they work for. In turn, these losses affect the bottom line and the fiscal opportunity for a company to offer employees better wage increases and better benefits. Presented to employees in this manner, I think most honest employees would not object to technology aimed at helping the company’s profitability.
Yet another MNB
user chimed in:Trust, but verify…
I still think that maybe a different approach to hiring and employee engagement could help address this issue. Witness this email from MNB
user Susan Stewart:Some stores consider staff as their best marketing investment; paying staff a fair wage, treating them well, giving great discounts, continual training, and other perks that only a grocery store can provide works to spread the word about what a great store they work at. Everyone they talk to can see the sincerity and enthusiasm and are compelled to shop there. Works really well for those who can see their staff as an investment, which they really are. This reminds me to tell my boss how glad I am to be here.
And another MNB
user sent me the following email:Something that I am not hearing about are the working conditions for retail managers and employees. In the fight to stay profitable, I work for a leading $ store as a manager, our workload continues to increase while payroll continues to drop. We are heavily task oriented to the point of being implementers of a plug and play system as opposed to managers. I am in an older store, which needs a remodel, or to be moved because of what is now a poor location. We have turned our sales around from 3 straight years of negative sales growth to a small, but positive growth this year. We are more profitable now, and this after losing the only "draw" near us, a video rental store. This is not enough to get any kind of bonus or raise this year.
Our emphasis is all about task, and catching our employees stealing. If my numbers were down, but all of my tasks were completed on time I'd probably be getting praised. Instead I always feel like the hammer is about to drop... and I am not alone.
No longer is personnel development even a part of our jobs, though it is given lip service. Everything is about the bottom line, my company posted a massive increase in profitability over LY, but it is not trickling down to the managers or the hourly employees in terms of wages, bonuses, or benefits. A massive emphasis on shrink, of which my company claims 70% is employee theft , helps an unhealthy feeling of paranoia and negativity. Even though the company is doing well, the company, (store managers and below), are not. The pressure to perform is growing daily, to the point that even in this weak job market, many of my peers have quit, or are ready to quit without the next job in place.
I fear that my employer thinks that their strategies have driven this profit growth and are not seeing that our recessive economy is causing consumers to look for cheaper alternatives for their needs.
I believe that when this economy turns around, and it will, many of the shoppers we have gained will utter a sigh of relief and then return to their old stomping grounds. In the end I believe that most people are loyal to their wallets and felt needs, and as soon as they can, they will find a way to satiate both of them, as in Walmart, every retailers arch nemesis.
It sucks to be working most segments of retail right now and the people who are equipped to leave, will leave. It is becoming a heartless business and is a lot less fun than it used to be.
Got the following email that covered several subject:It’s becoming increasingly clear that you’ve taken the politically-correct road rather than maintaining your past irreverent commentary style that appealed to me because it sought out the practical truth. Given your past criticism of Starbucks, which was dead on right (and by the way I am a loyal patron), your lame commentary on their rather anemic public relations tactic to justify higher prices, led me believe that you have recently invested in Starbucks stock. What happened to calling out BS ???
The potential impact of the swine flu pandemic has been amplified for political cover by the Obama administration to ensure they clearly “lift and separate themselves” from the past administration’s response to Katrina. They want to look good by “over-clubbing” the situation. I’m not suggesting that steps shouldn’t be taken to slow the potential spread of the flu bug; however, if we follow the logic that you espouse we probably should cancel people congregation unless that congregation is important. Thus far and thankfully, schools, universities, businesses, government, etc. continue to operate. In fact I’m traveling to my daughter’s high school soccer tournament this weekend where hundreds of people will congregate. Perhaps we’re idiots but I guess we believe true value is derived from the tournament.
I would suggest the real reason for the FMI meeting being canceled is because the potential risk of spreading the flu—the downside-- is far greater than the very meager value the FMI truly generates—the upside. I’m certainly not anti-FMI, I think they are correct not to meet .. it’s not worth it. To me, that’s the news…it’s not worth it.
Your approval for the reason they don’t meet is again, politically-correct and appears to be pandering to those leaders within FMI who could facilitate your access to industry information in the future.
Message: You’re talented and you provide a good product. However your reputation as a truth seeker and calling out BS should never be in question. Stay true.
Let me respond, if I may.
I don't own any Starbucks stock, nor do I have any friends at the company…so any personal investment … beyond being a longtime customer … doesn’t exist. I get your point, and it is a legitimate one…but I’ve argued all along that companies like Starbucks cannot run away from their core value proposition, and that even in a recession they have to find ways to make it work for them. The new ads may not work…and in fact, I implied that they were a bit warmed-over because one of them recycled the title of Howard Schultz’s book (a point I probably could have been harsher about).
As for the swine flu situation…right now, things don't look nearly as dire as they did a week ago…but we didn’t know that a week ago. I’ll concede that there may have been some political reasons for responding strongly…but public officials make a convincing argument that it is easier to overreact and pull back than it is to under-react and then try to ramp up.
You are welcome to make that argument about the value of the now-cancelled FMI Future Connect conference. We won’t know whether it is fair until the show is rescheduled and actually takes place; I will admit to some bias here since my friend Michael Sansolo has played a major role in shaping the Future Connect agenda, and I trust his judgment in all things. (Almost all things. We differ on a lot of TV shows and movies. Don't get me started on how I could be the friend of a guy who liked the movie version of “Sex and the City”…)
But I think that the folks at FMI would be surprised and amused by your characterization of me as someone who is trying to curry favor within the industry by serving as an FMI lackey. (There are folks there who refer to me derisively as “that blogger”… which, especially at my age, is something of a compliment since I’ve been doing this since before the term “blog” was invented.)
That said, let me say that I take your “no BS…stay true” admonition very seriously. I don't ever want to get lazy. Or complacent. Or politically correct.