Housing Complex

Safeway: Bag Tax Causes Theft!

Over the last few months, Safeway has tried to combat shoplifting at several D.C. stores by stopping customers to check their receipts at the door. But it hadn't explained exactly why, until Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2B inquired why that was happening at the store on 17th and Corcoran Street. Here's what spokesman Craig Muckle had to say:

This is a new program that we initiated earlier this year as a test at our SW Safeway and is intended to be implemented in jurisdictions where a bag fee is in place (right now, Washington and Baltimore City are currently where such a fee exists). Since the fee was established last year, we have noticed customers using traditional bags, along with less traditional pieces such as backpacks, to not only transport items from the store, but to carry items throughout the store. We thought that this was a better solution than the usual in-store security guards. This type of process has been used by WalMart and Costco.

Well, it's the rare government policy that doesn't have unintended consequences, I suppose.

  • (un)Sexy Safeway

    I use the (un)Sexy Safeway at 5th & I NW and have had to deal with the receipt checkers as well. Here's my question -- how on earth does this prevent theft? All they do is look at your receipt, circle something at the bottom, and let you through. They don't check your bags or anything. At least at Costco the receipt-checkers pretend to count the number of items in your cart. I don't mind the check, but at my S/W, it causes a clustermess as people have to wait in line to exit the store while others are trying to get past said line to get in and grab a cart. Like salmon swimming upstream AND downstream through a very narrow river separated only by a median of cheap baked goods.

  • Manuel

    It's unfortunate that it makes thieves bolder. But I wonder why just using cameras as they have always used them doesn't work.

    About a year ago, a small neighborhood grocery store in Petworth wanted to take my bag away at the front door before allowing me to walk through the store. I left and walked a quarter of a mile to another store that did NOT choose to treat me as a criminal before I even entered the store. Taxing bags is a good idea for the environment. However, there never has been and never will be any need to treat law abiding citizens like criminals. Catch the criminals and prosecute them vigorously.

  • http://facebook.com/UStreetNW U Street Buzz

    I call BS on this. Yes, receipt checking is an anti-shoplifting measure, but many stores have implemented these unpopular policies without using the "shopping bag brought from home" excuse.

    If that is actually a problem the solution is quite simple; post prominent signs asking customers to not to put their groceries in their bags until checkout. They can just use carts or baskets as they always have.

  • cminus

    I'm going to join the crowd calling out Safeway here. I shop at the Southwest Safeway -- where this misbegotten policy was originally begot -- and at no point has anyone made the slightest attempt to check what I'm carrying against what's on my receipt. I once stopped in on my way to Union Station and went through checkout dragging an entire wheeled suitcase behind me. I could have smuggled out enough food to cater an entire tailgate party, but the checker just dutifully drew a circle on my receipt for a 20 ounce bottle of root beer and sent me on my way without even looking up.

    I think it may just be Safeway's attempt to generate an excuse for profiling. I've never encountered any effort to see whether I'm shoplifting anything in my reusable bags, but I'm a thirtysomething white guy. Perhaps if I were a teenaged black male it would be a different story, no? Someone should keep track to see if Safeway ever does single anyone out for meaningful scrutiny, and, if so, who.

  • Java Master

    ..and some of the security people that Safeway employs must be the most amateurish in the city. You can generally spot them a ways off, and it appears they catch no one but teenagers anayway...

  • Will

    Also, why does the starbucks in the SW Safeway have a sign saying they will not sell cups of ice to anyone under 18 years old? What are non-eligible-to-vote teenagers doing with ice that warrants a prohibition?

  • Southeast Ken


  • Adam L

    I'm going to go out and defend Safeway here. I used to work in a retail store with a high amount of theft (textbooks). We had a similar receipt-checking policy during the busy back-to-school season.

    I can say that the people who dutifully hand over their receipt with reusable grocery bag (or plastic bag, for that matter) in hand are not the people you need to be looking out for. Yes, some malicious person could hide an item or two and get away with it because the security person wasn't *really* looking too closely at the receipt. But those people are small potatoes. You have to trust that the checkout clerks are monitoring folks.

    The people that security is looking out for are the folks who may have walked in with a backpack or other large bag but then walk out again having not purchased anything. In those situations it's typically acceptable for a security person to request that an individual open up their bag. But you wouldn't necessarily catch person that unless you have someone stationed at the door.

    And, as if this weren't already apparent, criminals are dumb. Really dumb. The same people will attempt to shoplift over and over again, even at the same store. Security often knows who these folks are and can therefore make extra certain that their receipt matches the products they are taking out of the store.

  • From Experience

    I can attest that, having a former roommate who was quite adept at scamming safeway, reusable bags very much make it easier. But the self-checkout lanes are what make it possible.
    And frankly, I can't imagine that some GED educated rent-a-cop is going to even notice by just glancing at your receipt if you stuffed some extra stuff in the bags anyways.

  • anon

    People need to really get over themselves, especeially in relation to that SW Safeway. I lived near there for the first 6 months that place was opened and did all my shopping there. That place was getting robbed blind and they are well within their rights to try to staunch what was the free flow of stolen goods out the door.

    I was talking to the Manager once about 3 months after the open and she said that Safeway was ranking in the top 5 of Safeways nationwide for the highest percentage of stock loss.

    Most of their problem is there new urban design meant that there is a ton of food and already prepped items near the door and that you didn't have to pass through a checkout line to get out.

    I would see groups of kids hanging by the door atleast 50% of the time I would go there, dart in groups of 5 to the prepared food cooler and run out with a backpack full of food.

    They would then hang outside for an hour or two and go in and do it again.

    This is why it takes such huge public subsidies to convince national retailers to build in the ghetto.

  • 20851

    The bag text doesn't cause theft. Thieving assholes cause theft. What this also doesn't say is that Safeway allowed customers to bring in backpacks and duffel bags prior to the bag tax. What the stores should do is prevent people from entering the store with backpacks and non-traditional bags to carry home items. I.E. the only bags they should allow people to bring in are plastic bags and the bags you buy in the store for $1.

  • cminus

    Anon, as someone who's lived in Southwest for a decade I don't think anyone's arguing that theft isn't a problem at that store -- I think people are arguing that (1) despite Safeway's claims, the theft problem seems to have little to nothing to do with the increase in the use of reusable bags, and (2) if the increased use of reusable bags somehow does encourage shoplifting, the policies Safeway has put in place are not going to address the problem.

    Your experience with the grab-and-run episodes, for example? Definitely a problem. But checking receipts will solve that problem... how, exactly? Based upon what you and Adam L say, if I were in charge of implementing a solution, I would have rent-a-cops keeping an eye on the stuff by the door and reserve the right to check backpacks and such when people leave the store -- and direct the guards to pay the most attention to people who *don't* have a shopping bag, whether reusable or not. The way things are currently set up, I've walked into the store for something quick, decided it wasn't worth waiting through the checkout line just to get one item, and walked out with nothing but the bicycle messenger bag I'd had coming in. If Adam L is correct as to shoplifter profiles, that should have raised a big red flag, but because I had no shopping bag I wasn't approached by the bag checkers at all.

  • annon2

    I can see it-the combination of using your own back and self check out? Yes, it does lead to to increased theft.

  • Kathleen

    I recycle, so I am against a plastic bag tax completely! Recycle in my home & plastic bags. I take them back to grocery stores that have bins for recycling purposes. Kohls even has a plastic bag recycling bin! Don't you all understand it is ANOTHER TAX! MORE MONEY FOR THE GOVERNMENT! GO GREEN is a farce! When they offer EVERYONE recycling, then I may think the government is serious about conserving! Even if people are bringing their own bags, the tax is still their & will continue to be. The government is too greedy to give it up, & we become too complacent & just accept that the tax is there.

  • Danush

    20851: That's a horrible idea for three reasons.

    First, it doesn't really solve the problem: why can't people still sneak things out in the reusable bags? It seems like the issue is people putting things in their bags before checking out, in which case this does nothing unless you buy a new reusable bag each time you shop, defeating the point of them.

    Second, if generally implemented, people would have to have a set of store-specific reusable bags for each store they shopped at, and would have to always have the right set with then when they went shopping, which would just discourage bothering with reusable bags.

    Third, in an urban environment where people get around by walking or transit, if you ban people from having bags from elsewhere with them when they shop, you're essentially banning people from combining multiple shopping trips, or from going shopping on their way to or from work.

  • Jay

    The new policy does nothing, when the store gets busy they just let people go out. Hire more people to work on the floor, assist customers and approach suspicious activity with open questions like, "What can I help you find today?" That'd do more to prevent loss.

  • shawguy

    I'd like to note that the receipt check is legally voluntary. A police office is barred from asking for your receipt without probable cause (unreasonable search and seizure), as are grocery store employees. Being in a grocery store while it is open for business is not "probable cause". Buying items from a grocery store is not "probable cause". I decline to show my receipt when I leave, and simply state "Janet (or whoever) at register four was my cashier today. If you would like to know that I paid for my items, she has a copy of my receipt at her register" and keep walking. I refuse to be treated like a criminal just because I purchased milk and eggs.

  • Rrrg

    For reference, the only person I've ever seen at that Safeway "refuse" (i.e. said no thank you) was indeed stealing a bag full of stuff from the place. A store employee had followed the person to the door and gotten in front of them to block them while trying to run past the recipet checker repeating "no thanks".

    And for you holier than thou folks, suck it up. This is the price of having nice things in the ghetto. Don't like it? Move.

  • Adam L


    The law disagrees with you. Police officers are barred by the Fourth Amendment rules on search and seizure, but *private security is not*. Stores typically have the right to check your receipt and your bags. The only difference is whether the action by the store is "reasonable." So looking through your bag as you walk out the door has been ruled reasonable, while detaining you for an extended time while they go through every item you have would likely not be reasonable and could be the basis for a tort. Of course, it is also your right to not patronize that store.

  • 20851

    Adam L is obviously clueless or else he wouldn't be stating blatant falsehoods like private security having the "right" to check your bags as you leave the store.

  • wrwr

    Another reason not to shop at the Soviet Safeway. Being stopped for a perfunctory "security check" by someone who probably doesn't deserve even the most menial of jobs is a joke. I've been through this security measure once at this store, and the "security guard" was having a hard time maintaining a conversation with her three friends to even care about my presence.

    Good job Safeway. Keep it up!

  • Adam L


    "Right" was the wrong choice of words. It's obviously not a right, but the law gives great leeway to store security in regard to checking receipts and/or bags. Ever been to a sports arena or a museum on the National Mall? Bag checks are nothing new. But my main point was that the Fourth Amendment doesn't apply to private security guards.


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  • wrwr

    @Adam L

    The examples you give are for ENTRANCE into an area, not to leave the area.

    So far, I haven't heard that Safeway is checking bags upon entrance.

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  • Ebabe

    First it's confusion, disbelief, and then anger when someone accuses you of stealing. A couple days ago, I was confronted and accused of stealing, while I was shopping inside of the store. I always bring my plastic bags to the store and instead of carrying or grabbing a basket(or cart) I put an item in my plastic bag. I never thought about stealing or realized how bad it looked to a store employee until they stopped me in the middle of the store. The store employee refused to let me go to the counter and pay (after I explained what happened) and so I put all the items back, left the store, and bought them elsewhere. It was a very uncomfortable and embarrassing situation and I am still upset about how the employee handled the situation. Instead of allowing me to pay or putting my items in their basket, the employee treated me like a criminal and assumed I was guilty of theft which was furthest from the truth. I never realized until now how bringing your own bags(baskets) etc can become a problem for retailers and their employees. I think employees should be educated and trained on how to handle the reusable bag situation since plastic bag ban is becoming law. The majority of customers are not thieves and normally thieves walk out with merchandise with or without a bag cuz they don't care.

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