Macy's LP Approach Of Monitoring Dressing Rooms From The Inside Is In Major Need Of An IT Fix

A Macy's loss-prevention program, which involved security employees surreptitiously having a complete view of customers getting changed in its dressing rooms, is embarrassing primarily because it could have been avoided with some help from the retailer's IT group.

The program was reported on by a Florida TV station, when an apparent Macy's LP employee revealed that the slots on some dressing room doors were turned upside down, thereby providing an unobstructed view of sometimes naked customers. The station said it confirmed the program in Macy's stores in Florida and Washington, D.C.

Macy's did not respond to our request for comment. The chain issued a statement to the station—WINK—that didn't deny the program and generically said the chain does what it has to. "Retailers work hard to strike a balance between preserving the privacy of customers, providing customer service, maintaining customer safety in fitting rooms and deterring the theft of merchandise. We at Macy's are continually reviewing our policies and procedures to ensure we are serving the best interests of all of our customers. We strive to make customers feel safe and secure at Macy's."

This is one of these extremely emotional stories, where facts and legitimate justifications are irrelevant. Once a report combines "Macy's dressing rooms" and "see customers naked," a reasoned explanation has little chance.

Aggravating the emotional problem are gender stats in the station's report, which discussed one store that had 49 doors altered in various women's departments, including lingerie and juniors. Only one door was found altered in the men's changing rooms.

As a practical matter, clothing thefts of this nature are much more likely to happen with women—men tend to shoplift other types of merchandise—but that reality can't compare with the perception that male LP officers are gawking female customers.

The WINK-TV story also discussed the legal issues involving notification. The LP officer referenced a 6-inch-by-6-inch sign outside the fitting rooms. "It may be legally OK according to Florida law, because there is a sign posted saying loss-prevention personnel are monitoring the fitting rooms. But I knew for a fact that our customers did not know that we could see them naked. Really that we could see their private body parts," he said.

This program is a bad idea for a lengthy list of reasons. Obviously, it has the emotional charge to truly alienate customers and to send them into the dressing rooms of the nearest rival. But it's also truly not necessary, given the existence of technology options to detect what the guards are supposed to be watching for.

Joe Larocca, head of loss prevention for the National Retail Federation, said he couldn't discuss any specific retailer's program. He did say, however, that fitting rooms are very challenging places for LP to function.

"There are many [LP] considerations to take into account when designing fitting rooms," he said. "EAS and RFID technology may prevent and detect merchandise theft, but some people take advantage of the private setting of the fitting room to remove these tags and conceal the merchandise."

That's absolutely true. But that assumes there are changes made to the merchandise after the customer walks into the changing area and when the customer leaves. It would seem that sensors located at the entrance could specifically note any such deviations. And one associate assigned to that area—one is likely to be assigned there anyway—could note both what the system says is the number of detected tags and what the associate actually sees the customer bringing in.

Besides, a thief could simply opt to only use dressing rooms that do not have the reversed slots. And given the modesty issues, that wouldn't even be a red flag for a possible shoplifter.

Also, for this program to work, a two-second glance wouldn't likely detect anything. It would require an elongated look, which is simply going to freak out other customers. Sometimes, technology investments are the right way to go. In this case, though, the decision shouldn't even be close.