We’ve all seen it, and many of us have done it—walk into the Co-op on a beautiful day with our favorite canvas bag strapped over our shoulder. Then, we slowly progress from aisle to aisle, picking out the couple of items we came in for (plus a few unexpected ones), and placing them nonchalantly into our bags. When I first started working here, this was a very strange sight for me. But my initial feelings quickly subsided as this activity is just one of the many quirky facets of shopping at the Co-op.

Unbeknownst to me (until I became a Manager on Duty, MoD), was the level of stress that shopping directly into your bags has on the staff here. We as a staff are responsible for protecting Willy Street Co-op Owners’ investments. We do this in many ways depending on our role in the store. One of the main ways our staff assists in protecting your investment is to ensure that everything that leaves the store is paid for.

We know, just as any other business, that theft occurs in our store. There’s no point in beating around the bush. It happens. Also, thanks to the countless examples of wonderfully honest Owners returning to the store to pay for an item buried in the dark caverns of their canvas bags, we know people really do accidentally forget to pay for objects they put into their bags. In an effort to ease staff’s ability to combat shrink (loss of product due to theft, fraud, error, or faulty process in our store), and to do this cooperatively, we are now asking that we all stop shopping directly into our bags.

The decision

This decision came about as a proposal to our Employee Council presented by two staff members. The Employee Council is an internal group made up of democratically elected staff representatives from different store departments. Their job is simply to set policy that impacts all Co-op employees. Their argument was that our current system makes it terribly difficult to confront someone they feel is exhibiting suspicious behavior. With no stance against what is essentially concealing unpaid merchandise, we have promoted an environment that makes it way too easy for a person with the intention to shoplift to be successful. An example that really opened the eyes of our staff here was a situation where a man walked into the store, grabbed a Willy Street Co-op canvas bag that was for sale, filled it with over $250 worth of meat, and was caught by a staff member in our foyer after trying to slip undetected past our registers. Also, by allowing people to shop into bags, we are opening up possibility for a person who would never purposely steal to accidentally go home without paying for something.

We know that this is not the first time the issue of our relaxed stance of allowing shoppers to shop into their bags, burleys, or backpacks has come up. Staff have expressed concern regarding the stress of having the responsibility to protect the Co-op’s inventory, but the possibility of confronting an innocent shopper makes for a difficult and stressful situation. For us to make this a successful and beneficial change in our store, we will need not only the cooperation and help of everyone on staff, but the understanding and adherence of our Owners. Soon you will start seeing signs informing you all that we will begin discouraging patrons from shopping directly into their bags. Staff will be distributing baskets to those who continue to shop into their own bags as a friendly reminder, while informing shoppers of our new guideline.

Shrink

Shrink dramatically affects the Co-op and, ultimately, all Owners by reducing margin. This means less money for our “Community Reinvestment Fund,” fewer donations for local events and worthy causes, and higher prices in the store. This is just one of many steps we are taking to achieve a higher level of efficiency and overall financial health in the Co-op. Thanks so much in advance for everyone’s cooperation on this matter, and happy shopping (into a cart or basket, of course)!