Trading Convenience for Security

Easy access to condoms, lotions and even deodorant depends on where you shop. Thieves are thwarted and so are customers.

By Esan Ayanna FullingtonHoward University News Service

CVS and Rite Aid purposely have made some common household items less readily available to consumers.

The items that were locked inside glass cases varied from place to place in recent visits to stores in and around Washington.

Anthony Kennedy, a photo lab technician at the CVS on 14th Street NW in Columbia Heights, says there is a rational explanation for this practice. “This store alone has a thick record binder of shoplifted items. We go by what is most likely to be stolen depending on the neighborhood. A lot of it also has to do with the store manager and how they like to run the business.” Kennedy provided the explanation just after he had unlocked a glass case filled with telephones, clock radios and portable televisions for a customer.

The CVS on East-West Highway in Hyattsville had items such as personal lubricants, condoms and pregnancy tests restricted, while the condoms at the chain’s 7th Street store were left unlocked. Afua Kwarteng, a pharmacy technician, gave some insight into this observation.

“The glucose and pressure machines are locked away at this store because they cost more. You’d have to steal five boxes of condoms to equal the damage,” Kwarteng said. “CVS loses more money if you steal glucose machine test strips as opposed to condoms.” The Chinatown store had one of the larger lotion sections among the stores that were visited. Some of the cases were opened, while the most expensive brands were sealed off .When asked why some of the cases were locked while others weren’t, Kwarteng had this to say, “Cases aren’t supposed to be opened. This is Chinatown. A lot of homeless people frequent this area. Six dollar lotions may be opened, but $18 ones are locked. Things of value are kept in cases.”

All of the CVS stores had common items such as designer fragrances and electronics under lock and key. The 7th Street location, had products like deodorant in closed glass containers. Kwarteng added another perspective to the equation, “After school the kids come in and steal things they don’t even need, just because they are there to take.”

Hazel Gumbs, a candidate for a doctorate in economics at George Washington University, had a theory about the impact on the bottom-line of adding a step to purchasing some items. “I do think that some money is lost with these loss prevention practices. Companies realize that those customers who truly want a specific product will be willing to wait for the assistance to get it. It balances out in the end. If you notice, a lot of the time the less expensive store brand is more accessible. Stores like CVS benefit from this type of set up.”

Ashley Boone, a University of Maryland alumna, who divides her time between Baltimore and the District of Columbia, shared her view on the CVS anti-theft practices. “I feel like it’s an insult to the customers to lock up items like deodorant and lotion. They only do that in certain communities. There are places where they don’t do that.”