Home > Consumer > ASDA Wal-Mart (Swindon’s) Discriminatory Practices

ASDA Wal-Mart (Swindon’s) Discriminatory Practices

Added: (Tue Oct 10 2006)

Pressbox (Press Release) - “I spent many months conducting investigations into ASDA Wal-Mart Swindon’s policies and procedures for dealing with customers. The results were disturbing.”

Heather, Journalist & Undercover Reporter

Anneliese Bates was pregnant with her second child when she was apprehended by 8 burly security guards in ASDA Wal-Mart, Swindon in February 2006.

After paying for her shopping, she was about to leave the store when she was stopped and asked to come into the office. She was naturally shocked and could not understand why she had been approached. After being taken into the office, she was alerted to the fact that she had not paid for a packet of (cheap) nappies that she had put underneath the pushchair whilst she completed the rest of her shopping. This is a common mistake made by many mothers, since it is impossible to place a packet of nappies or any other large item such as toilet rolls in a shopping basket and also fit other items in. It is also impossible to push around both a buggy and a shopping trolley, which means that mothers in a similar situation have no other option than to also use the bottom of the pushchair as an additional basket. Anneliese does not drive, so she does not have the luxury of being able to leave the pushchair in the car and put her son in a baby seat in a trolley.

Anneliese pointed out to the staff that had she been intending to steal from the store, then surely she would have stolen the most expensive brand of nappies. Why also would she choose just to steal one item, when she had several more expensive items in her carrier bags for which she had paid? Anneliese had also been feeling very unwell as a result of her latest pregnancy, so was more forgetful that she would normally be. In addition, she was still grieving over the loss of her eldest brother and should never have been subjected to this humiliation. She told me that she been feeling particularly depressed since this incident and certainly did not wish to be regarded as some sort of criminal.

The security personnel were not willing to accept Anneliese’s explanation and took her photograph, stating that they were going to circulate it to all of the other stores within the orbital shopping complex and also to stores around town. The only people who should be qualified to take such a photograph are the police. It is certainly way over the top for a young mum who has spent a substantial amount of money in the store and who has inadvertently walked out with a cheap packet of own-brand nappies on the bottom of her son’s pushchair.

Although Anneliese admits that she prefers shopping in Tesco, she shops occasionally at ASDA Wal-Mart for convenience and felt that this experience was denying her the freedom of choice.

One feels compelled to pose the question that had it been a smart, intelligent, middle class mother who had made the same genuine mistake, would she have been given the same treatment? My investigations revealed that in this situation the mother’s explanation would have been accepted, a joke would have been made and she would have been discharged without caution and certainly without being banned from the store.

Whilst many stores experiences huge losses from theft, the feeling amongst the general public is that they should be targeting those who steal hundreds of pounds worth of goods every week, not law abiding young mothers who have made a genuine mistake. Criticism has been directed at aggressive security staff who need to learn to assess each case individually rather than adopting the “hardened criminal” approach with everyone.

A few months after the first harrowing event, Anneliese began frequenting the store again without incident. However, in October 2006 as she was pushing around a trolley full of shopping, she was approached by two security guards. They informed her that she had been banned from the store. Anneliese said that she had been coming to the store for five or six months and assumed that there was not a problem with continuing to shop there. She informed the guards that her mother had written a letter of complaint to the store and the head office following the first incident and they admitted that they had never bothered responding to the letter. Anneliese was forced to leave her shopping and the store with her two sons.

Following the above incident, Anneliese was approached in the car park by another customer who had witnessed her expulsion from the store. Robert is a solicitor who was keen to offer Anneliese his support after he witnessed what he describes as “an appalling altercation with a young mother who was clearly not doing anything wrong.” Robert admits that he deals with many miscarriages of justice in his profession and agrees that innocent young people are often unfairly targeted.

Anneliese commented, “Finally, someone with a high level of intelligence has the ability to recognise this injustice and to see further than my external appearance. My family comes from an upmarket town in Sussex, so I have been raised with certain values, including respect, honesty and compassion, qualities that I have found very much lacking in Swindon’s commercial environment. Is it because it is a more downmarket town and store staff assume that all young people are educationally subnormal delinquents? I don’t know. Personally, I don’t think there is any excuse for rudeness and for the downright insensitive way in which I was treated.”

Anneliese’s humiliating experience is not an isolated one. Following the incident in February 2006, I spent many months conducting investigations into ASDA Wal-Mart Swindon’s policies and procedures for dealing with customers. The results were disturbing.

Ellie, 21, is an intelligent university student studying law at Oxford. As she was leaving ASDA Wal-Mart Swindon one weekend in the summer of 2005, the alarms sounded as she was exiting the store. It is important to note that Ellie was not the only customer leaving at this time. However, security staff apprehended her, escorted her back into the store and demanded to search her shopping bags. Ellie was completely innocent and was allowed to leave the store, but with no apology from the staff concerned. Ellie said, “They treated me like a criminal, even though there were no items in my bag containing security tags, which would have activated the alarm. The culprit was obviously some other shopper who happened to be leaving the store at the same time as I was and yet no one else was stopped. The real criminal escaped. I feel sure that I was immediately targeted because of my age and the assumption that I would be more likely to steal than, say, a more mature, affluent-looking individual. I felt so humiliated by this experience that I haven’t been back to the store since.”

Anneliese also believes that she was singled out because she is a vulnerable, 20-year-old mother where the assumption is automatically made that she doesn’t have a lot of money and is therefore more likely to steal. She was moved to tears when she explained how hard she works to provide for her son, in addition to receiving gratuitous support from her family. Her family described her as a “kind, honest young woman who would never dream of stealing from anybody” and who would “give her last penny to someone who needed it.”

It appears that people who fulfill certain image criteria are “watched” because of preconceived ideas about the type of person who is likely to commit an act of theft. Surprisingly, stores lose more money to professional thieves who know how to dress the part of law abiding citizens, than to those whom some would insensitively regard as “chavs”.

*Jenna’s story adds credence to the above theory. Jenna is an attractive and immaculately presented 27-year-old customer service supervisor. Although she doesn’t admit to stealing from stores, she does admit that she regularly swaps bar codes on products in order to purchase them at a lower price. She laughed when she told me about one of her recent visits to ASDA Wal-Mart Swindon, where she purchased a Dyson vacuum cleaner for 30 pence after switching bar codes. She says that the error went unnoticed because she had her weekly shop in her trolley and that the assistant did not bother checking the price that was rung up on each item. “If I am going to make a dramatic price change, then I have to ensure that I am purchasing a lot of other items at the same time. If I am only going in there to buy a few bits and pieces, then I will only make minor price changes – but enough to save me a great deal of money! Stores tend to rip off customers with grossly overpriced goods, so I feel no guilt or shame in what I am doing. I work very hard and pay my taxes, so naturally wish to maximise what I earn.”

Undercover reporter, *Katie, was employed at ASDA Wal-Mart Swindon for just three months. She confirmed that some of the security staff actively watched certain types of people, which was always based upon their appearance. “It seemed that anyone who was under the age of 25, particularly if they wore certain types of clothes, were more likely to be targeted.” She also alleged that some of the male security staff would even find excuses to stop attractive young women for their own perverse gratification.

What was most enlightening, however, was Katie’s observations about the conduct of some of the other employees with regard to “acquiring” items from the store. “If the security staff want to be more adept at catching the real thieves, then not only should they be broadening their current blinkered beliefs on the image of a thief, but should be looking closer to home. I personally knew of several employees who regularly stole from their employer. In fact, they would often work together as a team to fraudulently obtain goods that they wanted. I was told by more than one person that if there was anything in particular that I wanted for free, then it could be arranged. One employee told me that it was about the only perk she got and that she felt that she deserved it considering the abuse to which she was subjected from some customers and senior members of staff.”

So what other “type” of person should security staff be monitoring? *Lloyd unashamedly refers to himself as a “Professional Shoplifter”. Upon first meeting Lloyd, one would assume that he was a doctor, lawyer or other high-powered professional. He sports an expensive suit and exudes an air of sophistication. One could almost say that he smells of money. In fact, Lloyd is a factory worker who doesn’t earn a substantial salary. However, he has an insatiable taste for the finer things in life, including expensive clothes, food and modcons. He says that ASDA Wal-Mart Swindon has been a gold mine. “Obviously it would not be in my interests to divulge my secrets, suffice to say I have never been caught. If I am planning a shoplifting expedition, I dress and speak the part. Experience shows that customers who are smartly dressed and appear to be affluent are less likely to be monitored than, say, a teenager wearing a ‘hoody’. Yes, I walk out the store with tagged items, but when the security alarms go off, no one would ever dream of stopping me. I admit that I feel sorry for the innocent person who is stopped and you can guarantee that it will almost certainly be a young person, or someone who is wearing more casual attire.”

*Melanie, 33 and a couple of her friends shop at ASDA Wal-Mart Swindon every week. Melanie openly admits to stealing on a regular basis to satisfy her desire for material possessions that she wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford. Melanie says that she cannot even begin to add up the amount of goods that she has stolen from the store. She divulges one of her secrets to me. “We take in our own ASDA carrier bags, which we hang on our children’s pushchairs and place items into these bags as we go round. Because we leave with the stolen items in ASDA carrier bags, it looks as though we have paid for them. On one occasion I left with £500+ worth of goods. I feel terribly sorry for people who are caught walking out with inexpensive items by mistake. If I get caught, then fair play, I deserve it, but to treat innocent people like criminals is wrong.”

These experiences do nothing less than make a mockery of ASDA Wal-Mart Swindon’s security system. In order to prevent protection of the criminal and persecution of the innocent, it appears that they need to seriously address their policies and procedures and perhaps adopt a more effective training scheme or employ a different security company.

*Some names have been changed to protect identities.

Submitted by:Stacey Ing
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