The next target of the woke patrol during all of the “racial realignment” discussions going on is apparently Walmart. As NBC News reported this week, complaints were lodged against the retail giant in Denver recently when a local news reporter highlighted the fact that the local Walmart had a policy of keeping “multicultural hair care and beauty products” in locked cabinets. Those specialty products are primarily purchased by Black shoppers, so the implication was that the store didn’t trust people of color and made them ask a clerk to unlock the case. In response, Walmart almost immediately said they would discontinue the practice in all of their outlets.
Walmart will no longer place “multicultural hair care and beauty products” in locked cases in any of its stores, the company confirmed Wednesday.
The practice, which Walmart says was only in place “in about a dozen” of its 4,700 U.S. stores, has received criticism for the implication that the customers who buy these products, largely people of color, can’t be trusted. The cases must be unlocked by a store associate, and the products are usually then taken to the front of the store for purchase.
CBS Denver reporter Tori Mason was the first to disclose the change, after receiving an email from Walmart in response to her story highlighting a situation that people of color have long faced.
Having had to cover a variety of topics related to retail sales practices over the years, I can tell you with certainty that Walmart is far from the only chain of stores that does this. You can go to the Target in my neighborhood and any number of the “big box” outlets at the mall and find the same thing.
While it’s understandable how someone could look at this situation and conclude there might be some sort of racially motivated assumptions driving those policies, it’s actually something far more basic. In order to compete in that market space, all of the major retailers have moved increasingly to “Big Data” solutions to maximize their profitability and competitive stance.
As technology in the retail sales field has advanced, virtually every product in every store is tracked through UPC bars and, in some cases, RF chips embedded in packaging. The number of any given items entering the store, being sold or being returned is tallied and reported up the management chain. That data is used for all sorts of decisions the stores make. For example, if they find that customers who purchase beer are also significantly more likely to purchase diapers, they will move the diapers closer to the beer aisle. (That’s a real-world example, by the way.)
The difference between the number of products going on the shelves and the number of sales recorded is generally attributed to either damage during handling or theft. The items that are most commonly stolen are the ones that will be moved into locked cases requiring a sales clerk with a key to access them, assuming the cost of taking those steps is less than what they’re losing to theft. At the Target store near us, for example, the razors are in such a case. And that’s all razors, not just “multicultural” ones, assuming there is such a thing. Why? Because most razors are small, they come in packaging that can be quickly ripped open and they fit nicely into a pocket. They’re easy to steal.
The algorithm doesn’t know or care what color your skin is, which gender you are, or anything else. It’s measuring dollars and cents and determining where theft aversion strategies need to be employed.
I’m assuming that the hair care products reference in the linked article were showing up too often in the stolen column and Walmart was losing money on them. But since they were accused of implied racial bias in the current national climate, they were quickly cowed into submission and forced to change their policy. Now they’ll probably have to suck it up and lose money until they come up with a different strategy to combat theft. But they will come up with another method, probably either involving cameras or simply moving those products to a location closer to the checkout lines. It’s the nature of the business.