The Apple Shopper Arrested For Using The Chain's Mobile App Improperly Is Sentenced, And It Sends A Very Dangerous Signal

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An update on Eric Shine, the 18-year-old who was arrested this summer at a New York City Apple store after his payment using Apple's mobile app did not complete. And it's not good—at least not for retail and mobile payments.

On Tuesday (October 16), Shine's case was resolved in a way that didn't clear him of the charges but almost certainly will if he's not arrested again within six months. The New York City criminal court gave Shine an ACD, which is NYC court language for an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal. He was given that, plus a single day of community service. That is the deal typically offered for NYC defendants accused of shoplifting items worth less than $500 for the first time.

The problem is that Shine—neither Shine nor his attorney returned calls—was treated as though he had indeed shoplifted. (What he was trying to buy were some $129.95 Bose headphones.) According to the details of the arrest, Shine paid for the headphones exactly as he was supposed to, by using Apple's mobile app in-store, scanning the barcode and using his already-on-file payment card. He was called to the Genius Bar (the Apple tech support area, with whom he had an appointment) as he was completing the purchase and he forgot to click the final button.

An Apple associate gave Shine a bag for his purchase, which apparently violated Apple's policy, as that associate was supposed to look at his digital receipt before giving him the bag. Had that associate done so, Shine would have discovered the error and been spared the night in jail. The associate didn't, so Shine proceeded to leave the store. When an LP person asked to see the receipt, Shine then realized he hadn't completed the purchase. Instead of asking that he complete the purchase, the NYPD was called and he was arrested.

Had the court found Shine not guilty, it would have sent a message that shoplifting requires some proof of illegal intent. NYC sees a huge number of shoplifting charges every year. The city can now expect a lot more, unless retail LP operations suddenly get a lot smarter.

This is far from solely an LP issue, though. News of this arrest can seriously reduce consumer willingness to try mobile payment at any retailer. Certainly the consumers we've mentioned this situation to had the reaction, "Well, I think I'll be whipping out Mr. MasterCard for any of my Apple purchases from now on. It's slower, but it sure beats jail if I happen to hit the wrong button or forget to hit the right button."

As a practical matter, the determination of intent can work similarly to what stores have done for years with self-checkout. The store factors in the behavior of the shopper, what was paid, what was not. Is it reasonable and likely that this was an oversight? What does surveillance video show in terms of the movements and mannerisms of the customer?

When there is such a painless alternative as "please step out of the line and try paying again. My apologies for the inconvenience," why arrest customers?

This is triply the case when you are trying to get shoppers to try a new payment method, one they are probably apprehensive about anyway. There needs to be long-term LP policy decisions about mobile payment. But in the short term, assuming that a customer who screws up the transaction is probably just human, it's not a bad place to start.

As for the other side—avoiding being an easy mark for truly crooked shoplifters—this approach has little exposure. If everyone is asked to show their receipt to leave the store (akin to what Costco does), the result should be few, if any, losses. If this means that more associates need to handle the exits, so be it. It certainly beats making people scared to shop with you—or at least scared to use mobile.