Walmart, CVS, and Walgreens Are Turning Shoppers Away With "Incredibly Frustrating" Policies
Safety measures have made some customers feel like these stores aren't worth the hassle.
To say that retailers have been struggling since the start of the pandemic is a bit of an understatement. Customers pivoted hard to online shopping once COVID hit, prompting many companies to pare down their retail footprint—and high inflation forced even more closures, as people's buying habits changed drastically. But now, major chains like Walmart, CVS, and Walgreens appear to be losing customers for a different reason. Read on to find out about the "incredibly frustrating" policies that are pushing shoppers to take their business elsewhere.
Retail theft has been on the rise.
The retail industry in the U.S. has been reeling from a surge in shoplifting. The 2022 National Retail Security Survey from the National Retail Federation (NRF) found that retail shrink, the loss of inventory from things other than sales, now amounts to a nearly $100 billion problem. The main driver of that shrinkage is organized retail crime (ORC) incidents, which the average retailer saw increase by 26.5 percent in 2021, according to the survey.
"The kind of theft that's mostly happening isn't run-of-the-mill shoplifting. It's organized crime," Mark Mathews, vice president of research development and industry analysis at the NRF, told Forbes in Nov. 2022. The organization's survey found that ORC groups are commonly targeting categories such as apparel, electronics, health and beauty, accessories, and footwear to steal.
To combat this, major retailers have started implementing new policies—but not all of them are sitting well with shoppers.
Chains like Walmart, CVS, and Walgreens have been locking up products as a result.
Popular retailers have spoken out about the trouble they're having with skyrocketing shoplifting. "Theft is an issue. It's higher than what it has historically been," Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said during a Dec. 6 interview on CNBC's Squawk Box.
But alarm bells have been sounding for some time now. During a Nov. 2021 Senate hearing, Ben Dugan, director of organized retail crime and corporate investigations at CVS Health, revealed that the company loses more than $200 million each year due to ORC, adding that it has seen a 300 percent increase in theft from its stores since the start of the pandemic.
And in January of this year, Walgreens CFO James Kehoe said that the company's shrink rate was 40 to 50 percent higher last year than it was in 2020.
As a result, the three retailers have turned to locking up more and more of their products over the last year.
Walgreens CEO Roz Brewer told The Wall Street Journal that the company is locking up more products and is now focusing on securing entire product categories instead of just certain high-price items. Forbes reported that Walmart started testing new types of locked cases this year that can only be opened by employees using a smartphone. And at CVS stores, viral videos have revealed everything from shampoo and conditioner to soda bottles being kept behind locked cases.
Shoppers say this is "incredibly frustrating."
Retailers might be trying to ward off shoplifters by locking up more products, but they could be turning away loyal customers.
Roger Evans, a consumer from Arizona, told Insider that he has stopped buying items like razors at Walgreens and CVS due to these new security policies—instead choosing to purchase from direct-to-consumer brands like Harry's and Dollar Shave Club. "I always found it difficult to find a staff member to come unlock them," Evans told the news outlet. "The drug stores have been perpetually understaffed."
Maura Mana of San Francisco, California, told Insider that local shoppers have been struggling with retailers locking up items for some time now. "It's incredibly frustrating for both customers and employees," Mana told the outlet.
The complaints from shoppers have spilled over onto social media, with people sharing how frustrating the in-store shopping experience at these retailers has become. "In [California], it is almost impossible to shop at Walmart," one Twitter user said in October. "Everything is under lock and key as if we're all thieves. You have to take around an attendant to unlock the cabinet when you want eye shadow. Ridiculous."
Another user tweeted that locked up products are a major factor contributing to why they "rarely shop" at Walmart nowadays: "They have socks under lock and key. Socks!"
Experts say this shouldn't be a long-term solution.
Locking up products might be what retailers feel the need to do right now, but over time, they may want to look into different ways to combat retail theft.
"During this holiday season, we are seeing a lot more items kept under lock and key," David Johnston, vice president of asset protection and retail operations at the NRF, told Insider. "That's necessary today as we're facing this issue. Long term, it's probably not great for the customer experience."
It might not be good for the retailers either. Joe Budano, the CEO of Indyme, a San Diego-based company whose security devices are used by Walgreens and other big chains, told Forbes that locked-up products in stores usually results in a 15 to 25 percent reduction in sales. "It's a solution of last resort," Budano added in a separate interview with Slate.
In a statement to Best Life, a spokesperson for Waglreens said, "Walgreens is committed to providing safe environments for our patients, customers and team members. Like other retailers, retail crime is one of the top challenges facing the industry today. We continue to take measures, like installing anti-theft devices for example, to deter theft and ensure safety and security in our stores. These steps are taken in response to theft data and for that reason only, and these additional security measures allow us to improve on-shelf availability of products to customers."
Best Life also reached out to Walmart and CVS about the backlash to locked-up products, but has not yet heard back.