Public Interest Courtesy Rule #18

Shop securityWhenever ownership of an item is required or desired, people are encouraged to purchase such items from retail establishments. The transaction process generally involves the intended item owner exchanging funds in the required amount at a service point. The process concludes with the paid item changing ownership from the retail outlet to the paying customer. The customer thus becomes the proud owner of the item.

The majority of customers are honest people who always conclude the sales transaction in appropriate fashion. However, there are some people who feel the need to bypass the purchasing transaction and simply help themselves to items, leaving the store without paying for them. This lack of respect for the purchasing process has required stores to introduce a variety of security measures in an effort to limit stock loss. Such measures include:

  • Posting security guards on the entrance and exit of the store;
  • Attaching security tags to products so that if a person tries to leave the store without paying for them, an alarm will sound;
  • Plains clothes security personnel patrolling within the store to ‘subtly’ monitor store activities;
  • Storing highly desirable and/or expensive items in secure areas behind service counters;
  • Installing cameras to record surveillance footage; and
  • Checking customer bags as they exit the store.Camera

It is completely understandable that retail establishments will employ different methods and technologies to combat the loss of stock. However it is completely unfair to punish all customers because these methods and technologies are not being appropriately utilised by store management. The bond between customers and retailers is built on trust, and so treating all customers like they are stealing stock is embarrassing and more than a little insulting.

If stores have responsibly implemented reliable measures such as security tag systems and surveillance cameras, there should be no need for staff to check the bags of all customers leaving the store. Doing so only implies that the retailer believes the customer has taken something without paying. No one enjoys being accused of such things, no matter how indirectly the accusation is relayed.

If for some reason, despite the presence of more discreet security measures, retailers still insist on looking through customer bags, there is absolutely no need to touch anything in their bags to ‘get a better view’. Also customers should never have to wait in line for their bags to be checked at the store exit, particularly if they have not made a purchase.

It is logical for stores to make full use of the security methods they have in place. However, rather than use these methods as a passive deterrent, retailers should actively use security measures which impact as little as possible on the majority of customers. Honest shoppers should not be punished for the sake of a handful of less ethical consumers, nor should their shopping experience be marred by intrusive security practices. The message is simple – have faith in your customers and they will have faith in you.


  1. jan

    Unfortunately honest people do have to pay the price too often for the non ethical customer. But if my bag, etc. was ever checked, they would lose a customer.

  2. Tracey

    Hi Jan – Unfortunately in Australia the checking of bags is par for the course…an extremely frustrating practice given that there are other methods available in stores to keep stock secure…I just wish they would use them!

  3. The Artist

    Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we didn’t need security anywhere. If only it were a world where we could trust everyone.

  4. Ricardo

    There are indeed numerous ways that stores can make things more secure without making people feel like thieves. Scouring through bags seems to be unneeded given that surveillance equipment can work much better.

  5. Tracey

    Hi The Artist – I agree with you completely. We have moved so far from a simple trust based society that I feel we may never return from it. Thanks for your comments.

  6. Tracey

    Hi Ricardo – It is just so true! I find it particularly frustrating that we have to be subjected to bag searches when the stores have the technology in place. It is never a nice thing to have to hold your bags up for some stranger to look through them. I hope we get ‘smarter’ with security one of these days.

  7. John

    In a way, I think it’s all part of this sense of disconnectedness, of isolation…

    I haven’t had my bag searched (except once in a student library when my library book hadn’t been scanned properly and activated the alarm) but I always feel awkward around the bleepy alam thingies by doors.

    I always feel they are probably going to bleep me anyway, just out of malice, and that all eyes will suddenly turn on me, as the other occupants of the shop realise that I am not one of “them” (OK, the “pod people” fantasy is probably taking it a bit far, but I figure that when the invasion comes, it’ll involve bleepy things in awkward social situations)

  8. Wanderer

    Hi Tracey, and thanks for putting this out for comment.

    It would be fantastic if we could all openly trust each other, but unfortunately greed, pride and the steady rise of the ‘look out for number one’ mindset makes it very difficult.

    I try my best to encouage trust by doing things like leaving my door unlocked when I’m home, and keeping valuables like my mobile phone in plain sight when I’m at work, but I’m aware of the risks involved in doing these things. The good news though, is that nobody’s taken advantage of these gestures yet and I hope it never happens.

    And as far as bag searches go, I’m pretty sure Australian retailers aren’t allowed to touch your bag during an initial inspection. If they’ve done it to you with prior suspision of theft, complain!

  9. Susan

    I agree 100 %, but I doubt anyone who matters is listening.

    Thanks for the support on my site!

  10. Tracey

    Hi John – I’m very jealous of the fact that you are not constantly subjected to bag searches. It happens all the time here – especially at large department stores or in stores that stock highly desirable items such as DVDs / CDs…most frustrating!

    You’re right about them bleeping out of malice – that happens all the time too. And then you have to be subjected to further bag searches until either you are able to walk through the exit without the alarm sounding or until they figure that the system is just faulty…again very frustrating and can be highly embarrassing! And all eyes most definitely turn in the direction of the unsuspecting fool who sets off the alarm.

  11. Tracey

    Hi Wanderer – Yes open trusting environments would be a grand, grand thing. I suppose at the very least we can aspire towards such a social structure – however unlikely that outcome may be.

    I hope to that no one takes advantage of your gestures of trust. It can be easy to be paranoid about personal possessions to the point of the ridiculous.

    I just find the whole bag search situation completely unbearable and highly offensive as a purchaser…it just encourages me to shop online.

  12. Tracey

    Hi Susan – Thanks for visiting! I know it is a shame that those who need to take action may not hear these words…but at least we can all get the chance to vent. 8)

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