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Customer concern over locked-up necessities

Stores like Walmart and Target have been placing more products, from toothpaste to deodorant, behind locked display cases. This has prompted customer concern, per six survey respondents.

These cases, often used for products like electronics, spray paint or alcohol, are now used for various basic necessities, according to USA Today. The cases can only be opened by an employee, according to Forbes.

A tube of Crest toothpaste, locked up at the Target location on Montgomery Blvd, costs $3.99. Dandelion Springer, a second-year psychology student at the University of New Mexico who frequents Target stores, said he is unsettled by the practice.

“To specifically go after hygiene products feels really gross,” Springer said.

Stores have cited organized retail theft – which involves clearing a large quantity of products from shelves to resell them online – as part of the reason they lock up products, CNN reported in 2022. Retailers chose smaller items that cost more when determining what to lock up, according to CNN.

Shoplifting merchandise worth $250 or less is a petty misdemeanor. If the merchandise is worth more than $250 but less than $500, the charge is a misdemeanor. Greater than $500 becomes a felony, according to New Mexico law.

The atmosphere of an otherwise welcoming store with reinforced security makes it feel “uncomfortable” and “disconcerting,” Springer said.

The items most commonly targeted by organized retail theft include laundry detergent, razors, deodorant and infant formula, according to the National Retail Federation.

Another Target shopper, Luke Pellegrino, said he understands why the stores might have made the changes, but feels that there were motivations besides curtailing theft.

“I would assume that thefts got so bad it legitimately started to affect the business,” Pellegrino said. “But at the same time, those are very cheap items that are upcharged significantly. Is locking up dryer sheets really going to save business?”

One of Walmart’s biggest concerns for its employees is “efficiency,” and locked display cases put a damper on its own rule, according to Jasmine Flores, a part-time employee at Walmart and senior engineering student at UNM.

The United States Chamber of Commerce defined New Mexico’s worker shortage as “more severe.” There are 55 available employees for every 100 open jobs. Each locked case in a store leads to about 500 hours of annual labor, according to the Wall Street Journal.

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“It genuinely interferes with the job that I do; it sets you back,” Flores said.

The average family in New Mexico spends nearly $300 a week on groceries. This number has gone up due to the higher cost of groceries since the pandemic, impacting the rising cost of living in the state, according to KOB.

Walmart and Target representatives did not respond in time for publication. Information will be updated on the online version of this story pending a response. 

“It's weird to lock up stuff like deodorant and face wash, which not only are for personal hygiene – so it feels a little scummy to lock them up – but also they're relatively cheap,” Springer said.

Sadie Hopkins is a beat reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at culture@dailylobo.com

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