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Grocer anti-theft measures have some Maritimers on edge, others welcome the change

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In the early 1900’s, you would walk into a grocery store with your list, pass it to an employee behind a desk, and they would gather what you wanted.

The idea of a self-service store started with a Piggly Wiggly Memphis location in 1916. It caught on, giving customers the power of option – since they know best.

“So, that moral contract remains for almost 100 years and that social contract is quite delicate,” said Sylvain Charlebois, professor and director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University.

Today, that trust is being tested. Maritime customers are noticing more security measures to combat theft.

Shopping cart wheels that lock as you try to leave, more receipt checks and added security gates.

According to a spokesperson for Loblaws, the wheel locking system was first tried in Ontario a few years ago and has had a big impact on combating organized crime.

The system came to the Maritimes about a year ago.

Grocer anti-theft measures have some Maritimers on edge, others welcome the change. (Laura Brown/CTV Atlantic)

“Organized retail crime has a massive effect on colleagues and customers, including impacting prices at stores,” said Loblaws’ director of media relations Dave Bauer in an emailed statement. “Over the past few years, we’ve introduced a number of different technologies to help mitigate this risk, including smart-wheel technology in carts and plexiglass along certain rails. This has made a huge difference.”

Organized crime for items like baby formula and cosmetics has been on the rise, says CTV News public safety analyst Chris Lewis.

“Those are very expensive things,” he said. “It's unfortunate but we're going to have to tolerate (those measures) in order to help them meet their goals of not having so many thefts.”

There’s mixed reaction from customers.

“I'm OK with the anti-theft measures because if they don't have them more gets stolen and our prices go up,” said one shopper outside of an Atlantic Superstore in Fredericton. “I do care about there being jobs, cashiers and that kind of thing. But I don't think people realize how much theft there actually is in retail and grocery stores these days. So I'm all for it. You can check my receipt any time. I've got nothing to hide.”

But for another customer, who shared that her cart locked as she was leaving a Superstore location and she was asked for her receipt – it left her feeling embarrassed and upset.

“I called the customer service and I explained my experience. Why would the gentleman ask for my receipt? He said, well, we've been having a lot of theft,” she said. “And I said ‘I'm going to stop you right there. I have shopped here for many, many, many years. I'm 56 years old. I have never stolen a thing in my life.’”

She said it made her rethink shopping at the location.

Grocer anti-theft measures have some Maritimers on edge, others welcome the change. (Laura Brown/CTV Atlantic)

Charlebois says companies should be transparent about how bad the problem is, to help customers understand.

“The Canadian way is really about making people feel comfortable and that the experience at the grocery store is enjoyable. Making customers feel guilty is certainly not the way to go, in my view,” he said. “Store theft is a problem, of course. I think what a lot of people are struggling with is that no one has that actually quantified the problem yet in Canada.”

CTV Atlantic did contact Walmart Canada and Sobeys for this story, but did not hear back. 

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