Company executives made significant changes to their stores to prevent thefts which have been on the rise in retail outlets, with big box stores like Walgreens being the main targets due to how easy it is to steal from them.
At one Walgreens store at 2 East Roosevelt in downtown Chicago, the entire store was completely redesigned in a way where there are just two short aisles where customers are allowed to shop for themselves. These aisles of "touchable merchandise" consist mostly of food and drinks in a "Grab & Go Snacks" section as well as other so-called "essentials."
The rest of the store has been placed behind staffed counters where customers can shop through a digital kiosk system. Here, customers can select the items they wish to purchase. After making their choices, shoppers proceed to the checkout counter, where an employee retrieves their selected products. This system has also been adopted in the store's pharmacy section.
After placing an order, a plastic-framed sign next to the kiosk instructs customers to "relax while we shop for you." Customers will then be called to the counter to claim their goods once store employees have picked it out for them.
A spokesperson from Walgreens also mentioned that the changes are intended to improve the overall customer experience due to the increasing incidents of retail theft across the United States. The redesigned Chicago store is a test run for new concepts, technologies and practices. (Related: Walgreens closing 5 more San Francisco stores due to organized shoplifting.)
"It will continue to offer retail products and pharmacy services, just with a new look and feel that focuses on shopping digitally for convenience," said the spokesperson.
Walgreens has been one of the most publicly visible targets of a wave of high-profile shoplifting incidents affecting big-box stores across the nation, particularly in major urban centers like Chicago, New York and San Francisco, perpetrated by organized retail crime gangs.
The chain itself said it has been affected by organized retail crime since 2021, when it announced the closure of five stores in the San Francisco area and attributed the closures to out-of-control shoplifting.
During an earnings call earlier this year, Walgreens Chief Financial Officer James Kehoe noted that shrinkage – loss of inventory due to a variety of factors, including theft – amounted to about 3.5 percent of sales last year, but has since called in the mid-twos.
"We're quite happy with where we are. It's around 2.5 percent to 2.6 percent," said Keho. "So, that's well below the prior year's levels."
Kehoe attributed the drop to the incremental addition of new security features at stores during the first quarter of 2023.
But he admitted that some of these features might be "too much" and that the company will be pulling back from them. This includes dropping the practice of employing private security and instead relying on local law enforcement for security.