People never cease to amaze me. From my years as an Air Force Security Policeman through my years in retail, I have seen truly odd things from customers and on occasion I have had to adapt to these behaviors. Hopefully as I stroll through memory lane, you will find some of these things as amusing as I do. These days there are all types of measures taken to stop shoplifting, there are Checkpoint tags to place on merchandise, electronic article surveillance antennas, closed circuit television, but these tools were not always readily available about 30 years ago.
When I was a young Airman 1st Class stationed at my first base, I experienced my first encounter with aggressive shoppers. I had no idea that the release of a new toy could be the cause of a huge uproar. I learned my lesson when I was dispatched to go to the Base Exchange (BX)/toy store. It was somewhere in neighborhood of the Christmas shopping season and the BX had a “Toyland” store set up. I was assigned guard duty this particular day at the BX for a new toy coming out called the Cabbage Patch doll. I felt a little silly having to go to a store to guard a shipment of dolls, but I was not about to argue, orders were orders.
I arrived and stayed near the display where the dolls were being set up. I was more than a little surprised at the growing crowd waiting outside the doors for the store to open! These were just dolls weren’t they?! While I am sure there was some concern by store managers to stop shoplifting, I learned later that the bigger concern was to prevent rioting (admittedly it was not on the scale of a city riot, but it was big enough to me!). Checkpoint tags weren’t used at that time to prevent theft and even if they were, they weren’t going to prevent this mayhem. The doors opened and the crowd of shoppers stormed through those doors for the limited number of dolls on the display. I don’t know what management thought I was going to do, but my instinct for self- preservation prevailed…I moved out of the way. These shoppers were grabbing dolls from each other, yelling, pushing and screaming. What effort I did try to exert was to no avail and I watched, somewhat horrified I might add, as the melee ensued.
Eventually the last of the dolls was grabbed and held with a death-grip by some fierce shopper. I don’t know that my performance was what the management had in mind when they requested a Security Policeman to be present, but I did escape with all limbs attached so in my mind, mission accomplished. I will say that this experience somewhat prepared me for the future when I would find myself in a new career as a Retail Loss Prevention Manager. Black Fridays couldn’t be any worse…could they?!
My later experiences in Retail Loss Prevention did find me preparing merchandise and the store for Black Fridays, as well as chaotic new releases of products. Using Checkpoint tags to protect merchandise we normally kept in lock up cases, we spent many hours tagging merchandise, but the results paid off. While we were aware some theft took place, overall we did not find a lot of empty packages or torn shrink wrap with tags left on them in the days after Black Friday. The combination of protected merchandise, employee awareness, strong police and Loss Prevention presence proved to be a significant factor to stop shoplifting.
I was proud of the fact that during my time as a Loss Prevention Manager, we did not experience anything like my “Toyland” trauma. Thanks to Checkpoint tags and careful planning, I never went through that again.
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