Why Walmart Has Become a Public Nuisance
Imagine a place where hundreds of thousands of petty crimes happen each year, where – on average – there is at least one violent crime committed each day, where police resources are strained to respond to the overwhelming occurrence of crime. Perhaps you’ve envisioned a major American city plagued with urban decay, or a third-world country riddled with social unrest. But the description above is not of a dangerous city or a remote, war-torn country – it’s of Walmart.
The level of crime occurring at Walmart’s locations across the United States has been confounding police departments and endangering customers at an incredible rate. A recent story from Bloomberg Businessweek took a deeper look at a disturbing trend of violent crime at the world’s biggest retailer and revealed some truly fascinating and alarming stories about the dangerous environment surrounding so many of Walmart’s stores.
The article gives voice to a number of police officers who have to deal with Walmart crime, and they paint a pretty bleak picture of the challenges they face. This runs counter to the image that Walmart is trying to project to the public, one in which it is taking the problem seriously and taking actions to address crime in its stores.
Walmart’s stance that it is truly doing its part to take on crime is of little consolation to the officers who spend an inordinate amount of time responding to calls from the stores. Walmart’s claims are also in contrast to the experience of customers who have suffered because of the retail chain’s lack of security.
Other retailers, such as Target, have nowhere near the level of crime in their stores as Walmart does, though it is worth noting that the circumstances are different for these two chains. Still, the level of crime at Walmart might be attributable to the culture of cost-saving that Walmart has been implementing for over 15 years, during which time they have seen a decrease in the number of employees per square foot and a heavier reliance on self-checkout lines, just two examples of measures that resulted not only in cost savings, but also an increase in theft and, in turn, other forms of crime.
There are many astonishing things laid out in the Bloomberg Businessweek article, including Walmart’s slow response in taking its security seriously and its rigorous approach to keep safety records from public view. The latter is informed, in part, by Walmart’s desire to keep a lid on things that might open it to even more litigation, which it is currently facing all around the U.S.
What many people don’t realize is that all businesses are liable for what happens to people on their property, and Walmart is no exception. The combination of legal accountability, public perception and demands from local governments and police departments would seem like more than enough for Walmart to exhaust all resources to fix the incredible crime problem they are facing. Yet, police departments are quick to point out that they haven’t seen results that reflect Walmart’s optimistic take on the situation.
The cost of crime at Walmart has proven to be more alarming to its customers and communities than it is to the company itself. Experts say that a serious investment in security would adequately address the problem but that has not been the response of Walmart.
Not only does Walmart’s ineptitude in addressing this problem cost taxpayer’s money in the form of police resources, it also costs customers who suffer violent crime because of its lax security. These stores expect the public to foot the bill for their security, and customers to foot the bill for injuries caused by Walmart’s lack of due diligence.
Meanwhile, Walmart’s interests seem to lie more in exploring profitable sales channels. In October of 2016, Walmart announced that they would be adding more warehouses to bolster their position in the e-commerce market, according to Reuters. To put this in perspective, Walmart has invested around $3 billion in e-commerce and digital initiatives from 2013 to 2016 in an effort to compete with e-commerce juggernaut Amazon. As Reuters reported in 2016, e-commerce accounts currently make up around three percent of Walmart’s overall sales.
That price tag – $3 billion – is important to remember, because it is very close to a figure used in the Bloomberg Businessweek piece. One retailing consultant expert cited in the article said that Walmart could essentially cut the level of crime at their stores in half if they were to hire around 250,000 part-time employees to add to their current workforce. The cost to Walmart? $3.25 billion a year.
Bloomberg Businessweek also does the math on how much it would cost to hire 12-hour police coverage for their largest and most crime-ridden stores, which security experts says would also reduce crime levels. That would cost Walmart half a billion dollars annually.
It’s understandable that Walmart would want to invest in e-commerce to evolve with the retail market. It is not likely that they would invest in a vast expansion of their workforce with the steep annual price tag of over $3 billion, even though they have invested that much to boost their online retail growth. However, hiring dedicated security for each of their stores would be a much more modest investment, yet the company hasn’t taken these measures either.
In Beech Grove, Indiana, the tension between Walmart and the community provides the perfect illustration of challenges faced by so many communities around the country. After a video went viral of a confrontation in the store and the mayor made statements denouncing the chain for failing to do their part to guarantee security for customers, Walmart promised to do more by building a fence to separate their store from a nearby retirement community and invest in security. As Walmart failed to deliver on their promises, the mayor decried the store as a “public nuisance” to Beech Grove. After the mayor threatened to levy a fine against the store every time an officer was called to the scene, Walmart finally hired an off-duty police officer to monitor the store, which proved to be effective.
The sad fact is that it took an extraordinary amount of bad publicity and incredible effort on behalf of local government officials to prompt sufficient action by Walmart. The example in Beech Grove also drives home another vision of the dire state which these stores thrust upon a community. The fact that a fence had to be built around this Walmart in order to protect elderly residents from dangerous criminal activity is the perfect encapsulation of the problem, and it brings us back to the first dystopian scene we painted for you earlier.
A company as profitable and far-reaching as Walmart should not be a bane to the community it serves, but it is becoming clear that its business practices have cultivated an environment in which crime thrives. It has the resources to stop it, but we are all waiting for its actions to catch up to its rhetoric.