When shopping for toys (toys!), I experienced a kind of outrage that very rarely befalls me. My curmudgeonly nature causes me to grumble and complain a lot and often, but very rarely does something, some behavior, drive me to the edge of tolerance.
Toy shopping at Dexy Co (and I name them so as not to indict an entire industry) has approached this threshold.
I walked into the store with my son, as we are wont to do, with an idea of browsing. My view on the myriad ranks of overpriced and over-specific toys available in Dexy and elsewhere is that they are rarely worth the prices asked. A toy's lifespan is measured in imagination-engagement, and a Spiderman figure which shoots webs at Venom serves its purpose in 7.23 minutes and is quickly abandoned thereafter. But the imagination is also sparked by viewing the shelves and seeing what is available.
As soon as we arrived at one particular aisle, an employee stationed itself next to us. Standing still, watching, and fewer than three meters from us. The employee (although I think soldier would be a better appellation) did not offer assistance. It did not open with the Izvolite Gambit, challenging our right to be in the store in the first place if we do not already know exactly what we want. It merely stationed itself next to us, intent on preventing us, the Implacable Enemy, from stealing.
The enemy is implacable, it is relentless.
Feeling under unwarranted scrutiny, I accosted it. I asked if we were ALLOWED to view the display of toys. Yes, it said. I asked if we were doing something WRONG. No, it said. So what are you doing here? It is my job, it said.
I raised my voice and told it to back away, to go stand somewhere else. I told it that it was making me feel uncomfortable. Clearly, it was not expecting my reaction and it drifted a few aisles away, looking offended. We continued our browsing and, inevitably, stumbled upon something that absolutely had to be bought to ensure the continued happiness of my son. I paid, and we left.
But the unspoken accusation of the Toy Soldier stayed with me. The principle of the thing is the problem. Its duty was to stay close to us. It operates on the assumption that ALL shoppers are potential criminals and that they would, left to their own unsupervised devices, rob the store blind. The assumption of malevolent intent is the stone in my shoe.
This incident happened several weeks ago. It recurred, however, yesterday, and my response was not to accost and frighten the Toy Soldier again (it was a new one) but I could not remain in the store. The tactic of self-protection engaged by Dexy Co has put an end to my continued custom - I will not be returning there to suffer the ignominy of their distrust and suspicion.
Shoplifting, I admit, is a problem for all retail. Some handle it by cameras and general vigilance. Most shops have electronic barriers that prevent people from walking out with ill-gotten gains. I cannot fault a shop for wanting to prevent that kind of inevitable crime. But the policy of stationing soldiers to guard the goods from shoppers crosses a line. I have seen this elsewhere, e.g., Vero supermarkets, and it always has the same effect on me.
The soldiers cannot engage an enemy which does not appear for the battle. The effect is that I take my business elsewhere.