'Krogering' now comes with receipt checking armed guards. Bring back the cashiers. (2024)

Amelia Robinson is the Columbus Dispatch's opinion editor.

In the not-so-distant past, shopping for eggs and bread at six Columbus Kroger stores did not involve being stopped by a friendly but nevertheless armed guard.

In the before times, you'd pick out sundries and essentials, waiting your turn in line and perhaps banter with a friendly cashier and/or bag person before being on your way.

Hi, buy and goodbye.

How "Little House on the Prairie" does that sound in the after times? Those simpler days have been upended by the COVID pandemic, technology and new theft prevention measures.

'Krogering' now comes with receipt checking armed guards. Bring back the cashiers. (1)

Krogering has changed

Going "Krogering" is still a necessity but visiting my closest Kroger does not have the same appeal since the introduction a few weeks ago of those friendly but nevertheless armed guards checking receipts at the exit.

The human cashier lines of yore (pre-pandemic) are now mostly closed. The lines of people — and they seem longer— have shifted to the self-checkout terminals.

The friendly but nevertheless armed guards are extreme even if they will deter some of the real shoplifters costing Kroger millions. They also deter legitimate shoppers who'd rather not be treated as if they are guilty of shoplifting until a receipt proves them innocent.

To that end, receipt checkers and the bottleneck of shoppers they often create at the exit would not be needed if Kroger once again relied on human cashiers instead of electronic ones. What changed? In recent weeks, Kroger, the city's largest grocerychain, added signs to the entrances of six area stores, telling customers that receipts are required when exiting — something already common at some Walmart and Costco locations.

Suitcases, duffel bags and roller bags are no longer permitted, and Kroger reserves the right to search backpacks, bags and other containers.

As the Dispatch reported last week, receipts are now checked at Kroger stores at:

  • Short North at 1350 N High St.
  • 3600 Soldano Blvd.
  • Great Southern at 3637 S High St.
  • Northland Village at 1745 Morse Road
  • Brewers Yard at 150 W Sycamore St.
  • Bexley at 2000 E Main St.

The guards — at least at my location — mark receipts with a yellow highlighter after giving them the once or twice over. Kroger has also recently implemented receipt checking at some stores in its Cincinnati/ Dayton division.

Is shoplifting on the rise?Retail data shows it's fallen in many cities post-pandemic

"In response to increased incidents of theft, we recently deployed added safety measures at six Cincinnati-area stores, including periodic receipt checks,” a spokesperson said to the Cincinnati Enquirer in an email.

Is shoplifting to blame?

Data on the prevalence of shoplifting is not precise because shoplifting is self-reported from stores.

A 2023Council on Criminal Justice report based on police data from 24 large U.S. cities — Cincinnati among them — found that shoplifting cases in the first half of 2023 was 16% higher compared with the first half of 2019. But when New York City was taken out, shoplifting reports were down 7% over that same timeframe.

Larceny, which includes all thefts, has declined nationally since 1990, according to The Brennan Center for Justice, a think tank focused on democracy and voting rights issues. The decline was particularly steep between 2020 and 2021 but rebounded in 2022, researchers said in a March 7 report.

They found that the rate of larceny was about 1,400 offenses per 100,000 people in 2022, a 10% decline since 2019.

This all said, I will take Kroger at its word when it blames theft for the added security. There is little reason not to.

A 2022 Ohio Chamber of Commerce survey found that 62% of businesses felt the rise in crime was stopping them from expanding.

Theft costs Ohio retailers $2 billion to $3 billion each year, the chamber said in a press release citing the Ohio Council of Retail Merchants.

Still, I just do not see how friendly but nevertheless armed guards are the best solution. They do not put me in a Krogering mood and instead remind me that there is a reason to fear the criminal elements or being caught in the middle of some sort of mishap.

Now, I want to get in and out of Kroger as soon as possible. Buy without the hi or goodbye.

Kroger is treating shoppers like third graders instead of addressing the real issue. One or two or three kids act up and everyone has to stay inside for recess.

In this case, all customers have to be screened as if they are up to something illegal when we simply want bread, eggs and other sundries and essentials.

Human intelligence and cashiers

'Krogering' now comes with receipt checking armed guards. Bring back the cashiers. (2)

Technology is flashy and new but is not always the best approach.

Walmart, Target, Dollar General and Costco are among the retailers that have limited or plan to limit self-checkout at some stores.

"Why? Shrink inventory has been a nasty pest over the past year, and it appears some of that theft is happening when shoppers 'forget' to scan items," Supermarket News senior editor Bill Wilson said in a March column . "Late last year, Kroger began leaning on AI to ensure that items in the cart make it through the scanner and into the bag."

I am guessing AI is not as good as human cashier scanning the items and placing them in the bag for his or her customers.

Kroger should get rid of at least some of the self-checkouts and add more friendly cashiers and bag people.

Nothing against computers and AI but human intelligence has more than a few benefits.

We can all use a little more banter and fewer interactions with friendly but nevertheless armed guards.

Amelia Robinson is the Columbus Dispatch's opinion editor.

'Krogering' now comes with receipt checking armed guards. Bring back the cashiers. (2024)
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