Walgreens’ new anti-theft efforts have customers fuming

Photo (c) Victor Habbick Visions/Science Photo Library - Getty Images

It’s quickly becoming a kiosk world out there, so get ready

The next time you’re inside a Walgreens and want to pick up a product to find out more about it, you might as well be sitting at home on your computer reading the item’s description.

Chain stores like Walgreens are wrestling with an epidemic of brazen shoplifting, sometimes carried out by groups of individuals. Target has put losses from theft at $500 million in 2022. Walmart recently closed four Chicago stores that were constant victims of crime.

In response, Walgreens has introduced new anti-theft measures at one of its newly-redesigned Chicago stores. It's a modern version of the old-fashioned general store, where everything was behind the counter. In the new stores, only two aisles are accessible to customers.

Everything else is locked up. Customers order from a kiosk and later can pick up those items from a store employee.

The company’s new kiosk technology – much like what fast food restaurants are using for in-store ordering – was originally intended to keep organized shopping rings out of its hair, but it’s making Walgreens customers crazy instead.

Those two aisles have what the company deems “essentials” – like a soft drink – but if you want to buy beer or a deodorant brand the company thinks is “non-essential,” then you’ll need to order it at a kiosk, then go to another counter and pick it up.

One reporter's first-hand experience

CWBChicago, a public safety news site, took a tour of Walgreens' new shopping system and wasn’t exactly impressed.

“When we visited the one-of-a-kind store on Wednesday morning, two employees were dedicated to the ‘shop for yourself’ section,” CWB wrote. “But if you want anything other than the very basic of basics, you’ll need to use one of the iPad-like ‘kiosks,’ where a sign invites you to “Let us do the shopping” from the store’s ‘full selection.’”

The reporter was not that impressed with the experience.

“To start the check-out experience, an employee used their name tag to bring one of the self-serve stations to life,” the reporter wrote, and then the scanner charged them $2.89 for the $1.89 soda. Plus tax, of course. 

Not many fans

Even though the company is making these changes to ensure a safe online shopping experience, the changes have been met with sour disapproval by customers. Some took to Lipstick Alley to voice their concerns.

"I knew this would happen. Next stop will be having to scan an ID or credit card before entering the store at all," one person said.

Another added "And this is why I do 95% of my shopping online. I don't appreciate being treated like a criminal." 

But the company said it is sticking with its plan – at least for now. A Walgreens spokesperson told CWB that the chain’s goal is to improve the customer experience with the changes, and the Chicago location is a test run, not necessarily a wide-scale rollout.

The anti-theft angle might not be the only thing the pharmacy’s customers can expect, however.

The spokesperson said the company is "testing a new experience at this store with new concepts, technologies, and practices to enhance the experiences of our customers and team members” and “will continue to offer retail products and pharmacy services, just with a new look and feel that focuses on shopping digitally for convenience."

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