Why Do We Put Up With It?


Today I was at school and killing time waiting for the bus to take me home. I figured I’d hit the campus bookstore and check things out there, browse around a bit, see if there was anything I wanted. I was in there for, oh, two minutes or so before someone told me I needed to leave my backpack, which was on my back at the time, at the front. I refused, saying I had rather a lot of expensive items that I didn’t want to leave unattended. I was then told I could just leave it behind the counter and the clerks would watch it. I refused again, saying I didn’t want someone else watching my my stuff. I then left and vowed to never return. Given the prices they charge for fairly basic items, that wasn’t a hard choice to make.

Why do we, as a people, tolerate it when we’re told we have to leave our bags at the front when going into certain stores? I know the stores do it because they fear shoplifters. They’d never ask a woman to leave her purse up front, but a purse dangling off the shoulder could store stolen objects far more easily than a backpack on my back could. I’d be hard pressed to sneakily remove it and put things in it, but the woman with the purse could take all sorts of items without anyone noticing.

To me the policy of leaving my backpack, or any items that are mine at the front of a store where goodness-knows-what could happen to them is very strange. I’m an honest person with no interest in stealing anything. That puts me on the same level as 99.9% of the rest of the population. Yet due to that one person in a thousand who is up to no good, the rest of us are treated like suspects. And, yes, I’m aware that this is basically a small-scale version of what happens at airports and security checklines, too, but there’s a difference: we can easily do something about this.

The next time you go into a store and someone tells you to leave your backpack, bag, purse, or whatever else, up front, refuse politely but firmly. If they tell you you have to do so or leave the store, tell them you resent being treated like a suspect when you’re trying to be a customer. Then tell them you are leaving and won’t be returning. Then take your business elsewhere. These days, almost every single item my college bookstore sells I can also pick up on Amazon. This includes my textbooks. And it’s all cheaper than what the bookstore is asking for.

True, one person doing this won’t make a difference. But if everyone does, businesses will notice. Yes, they might lose a few extra items to shoplifting, but probably not. If anyone wants to steal stuff, they can do it without bags. It isn’t that difficult to pocket a small item or two without a clerk seeing; working two+ years at a convenience store taught me that.

We really can’t do much about surrendering our dignity when flying. But in cases like this, where a viable, often cheaper, alternative exists, why not take it and keep your dignity intact? If you like, you can, later on, stop by the store and show them the receipt for what you bought elsewhere. Really rub it in their face. Maybe then, they’ll get the hint.

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4 Responses to “Why Do We Put Up With It?”

  1. Robert Palsma Says:

    I see your point but if I was a thief trying to make some quick cash then I’d hit a college bookstore. We all know how outrageously expensive those books are. Steal ONE and you’ve got some serious money and you KNOW it will sell.

    I also see the point in not wanting your backback with textbooks, computers, etc being watched by a stranger whose job isn’t to watch your stuff.

    Would you object to free, keyed lockers at the front of the store that you could use to store things? I don’t know what the theft rate is at such places. Perhaps it is quite high. Perhaps it is close to nothing. I’d have to look at the stats before I finalize an opinion.

    • Chris Says:

      I would object LESS to that, but I still wouldn’t care for it as an option. That’s still treating the 99.9% of customers as though they were criminals.

      • Robert Palsma Says:

        The owner of my used bookstore’s husband always wanted us to have people leave their backpacks up front. I never did it. It’s a used bookstore. So they make off with a $2 used paperback, big deal. I would think readers are less likely to steal anyway. But when you can essentially take a $200 textbook and hide it in your pack? That’s a different story. I don’t see it as treating everyone as criminals. I see it as theft prevention, annoying or effective as it may be. It may not be fair but sometimes you have to go for the lowest common denominator.

        I’d just hire a security guard to walk around, though. Seems the easier option and less offensive to your good customers.


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