Sunday, March 1, 2009

Incentives and Security

This still doesn't seem right to me:

An employee of Whole Foods in Ann Arbor, Michigan, was fired in 2007 for apprehending a shoplifter. More specifically, he was fired for touching a customer, even though that customer had a backpack filled with stolen groceries and was running away with them....

Almost certainly, Whole Foods has a no-touching-the-customer policy because its attorneys recommended it. "No touching" is a security measure as well, but it's security against customer lawsuits. The cost of these lawsuits would be much, much greater than the $346 worth of groceries stolen in this instance. Even applied to suspected shoplifters, the policy makes sense: The cost of a lawsuit resulting from tackling an innocent shopper by mistake would be far greater than the cost of letting actual shoplifters get away. As perverse it may seem, the result is completely reasonable given the corporate incentives — Whole Foods wrote a corporate policy that benefited itself.

At least, it works as long as the police and other factors keep society’s shoplifter population down to a reasonable level.

1 comment:

  1. A national retail clothing store has the same policy.