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Unwanted Stolen Items Can Now Be Replaced Prosecution-Free

TROY, MICH. ( — Arguing there is no such thing as "bad" consumer loyalty, Kmart yesterday unveiled a new "shoplifter returns policy," allowing defective or unwanted stolen items to be exchanged or returned for a full refund.

Kmart's Shoplifter Returns Policy

The announcement shocked the retail industry, which historically has held shoplifting in contempt. "I think this is a fantastic policy," sneered BankOne analyst Teresa Ecinata, "for Kmart's competitors and for shoplifters. 'Why steal at Wal-Mart when Kmart stands behind the products I pinch?'"

Kmart CEO Charles Conaway, however, labeled that "in-the-box" thinking, and argued the traditional, "all-or-nothing" attitude toward in-store thievery fails to tap the hidden value and brand-building opportunities within the retailer-shoplifter relationship.

Many shoplifters, said Conaway, are young or low-income individuals who at some point may be able to pay for merchandise. "When they can," he said, "we want them to think of Kmart."

As a result, he added, losses from shoplifting will now be accounted for as a marketing expense.

According to Anika Sykes, director of Kmart's new Non-Traditional Consumer division, of even greater benefit will be a reduction in "redundant shoplifting" by a previously unrecognized subset of thieves she called "disgruntled shoplifters." The disgruntled shoplifter, Sykes explained, returns to a store to re-steal a broken or defective item, or to steal a different item because the last one didn't work out.

Juveniles are notorious disgruntled shoppers, as they are more likely to return to steal two of the item, "just because they're pissed off," said Sykes. But even professional shoplifters can be dangerously disgruntled.

"Let's say a true professional steals a toaster oven and sells it to a fence," she said. "But the fence finds out it's broken and can't move it. Well, the professional's going to have to go back and steal that toaster oven again, isn't he? And maybe he'll steal an even more expensive one next time."

The policy, Sykes argued, should also lower the general crime rate, as fences will be less likely to physically punish thieves who repeatedly supply them with defective merchandise. Fences concurred.

"I hate it when I have to assault my suppliers," said Joey Carbone, a convicted fence from Tuscan, Ala. "That Kmart gives me a chance not to assault them shows me they're a good corporate citizen."

While Carbone said his suppliers have yet to test Kmart's new policy, the few shoplifters who did confirmed the company was good to its word and did not arrest them. For some, it was nothing short of a godsend.

"Last week I pocketed a couple of vid[eo]s from Kmart for my kids, OK?" said Eric Littleton, standing outside a Kmart in Akron, Ohio. "One of the tapes was all, like, weird lines, and my kids were friggin' screaming, 'Take it back!' Without the returns policy, I gotta steal again, but now, I'm golden. I am definitely patronizing Kmart in the future."

As if to confirm Kmart's strategy, Littleton added, "I've been down on my luck lately, but that's gonna change, OK? It is. And when it does, when I got the cash to pay, you can bet your ass I'll be giving it up to Kmart."


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