Loiterers Told Where to Go

Discussion
Oct 06, 2006

By George Anderson

Loiterers hanging outside a store are a good way to drive away customers and no retailer wants that. Now, there are various methods for dealing with those who do not seem to have a better place to go. Managers, store security, etc. can go outside to shush loiterers away. Stores have also tried pumping loud country or classical music into parking lots to discourage loiterers from hanging about.

A new system, named Message on Demand, takes a slightly approach by transmitting verbal messages to those who don’t know when to get when the getting is good. The system is activated in the store by a push of a button.

The system has a variety of messages it can broadcast including, “Attention please: You are on private property. No loitering or illegal activities are allowed at this location. All activities are being monitored and recorded. You must leave the premises immediately or the police will be called.”

So far, the Message on Demand system is being used in 10 7-Eleven stores, two Valero Energy gas stations and a supermarket operated by Supervalu.

Scot Lins, director of corporate loss prevention at 7-Eleven, told The Wall Street Journal, that retailers are having to implement systems to discourage loitering because, “We are finding more cities that are using nuisance-abatement ordinances to put the onus on the retailer or to get them more actively involved.”

7-Eleven found itself in a situation in Denver where authorities threatened to close a store because “it had become a haven for drug dealing”. The chain decided to close the store on its own and then began looking for ways to keep it from facing similar situations in other locations. As a result, it now uses the Message on Demand system in four stores in Denver and Dallas, one in Philadelphia and another in Portsmouth, Va.

Samuel Mudumala, who operates the two Valero stations in Kansas City, Mo., said loiterers do not like the system telling them to leave.

“They really don’t want to walk away, but they do,” he said.

The Message on Demand can also tell loiterers to move along in a variety of languages including Spanish and Hmong. It can also produce reports on the number of times messages are played and when along with recording if police needed to be summoned.

Mr. Lins predicts that up to 100 of 7-Eleven’s company’s 5,800 U.S. and Canadian stores may eventually use the system.

Discussion Questions: How big an issue is loitering and related undesirable activity on retail store properties? Should retailers be legally accountable
for the activities that take place on their property outside of stores?


Rosemary Erickson, a retail security consultant with Athena Research Corp., told The Wall Street Journal that for the typical retail chain, “about
10 percent of the stores have nuisance-abatement issues.”

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8 Comments on "Loiterers Told Where to Go"


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Ryan Mathews
Guest
15 years 7 months ago

Greg, I think it’s a closed loop Barry Manilow tape.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
15 years 7 months ago

Of course, it all depends on the store and where it’s located, but loitering in some areas is clearly a problem. Should retailers be held legally accountable for what happens on their property? That really isn’t the question. In most states they are accountable whether they ought to be or not. Will sending a message to the homeless, the mentally ill or the criminally inclined lead them to see the error of their ways and move along? It’s doubtful, but it may show real customers that the retailer is at least trying to do something.

Kenneth A. Grady
Guest
Kenneth A. Grady
15 years 7 months ago

Certainly non-productive loitering is a problem. (Productive loitering comes from actual customers who congregate but don’t cause problems.) The challenge, of course, is to distinguish between shooing away loiterers who cause problems and those who are good, non-problem causing customers. Mall retailers face similar challenges at times with teen congregating (loitering?) at hot stores blocking the aisles from actual customers.

The difficult balance to strike is the one between alienating customers and alienating those who simply cause problems. None of the systems currently available (that I am aware of) distinguish between those groups. Convenience stores are the ones most likely to need this help, and probably least likely to have a real conflict between customers and true loiterers. Given the crime and other problems these retailers face, solutions such as the MOD device will continue to be necessary parts of the security portfolio for such establishments.

David Livingston
Guest
15 years 7 months ago

I think it is a problem. It has ruined shopping malls across the nation. No one likes going to a shopping mall with teenagers loitering. Canned messages coming out of a machine sounds like only a temporary solution. Some of my clients have purchased used police cars, cleaned them up and parked them in their parking lot. Another one of my clients will have the police, his manager or himself apprehend an actor in a staged event and beat the actor in front of loiterers. Then the actor is removed to what appears to be an old fashioned ride to the countryside. This has been quite effective.

Greg Coghill
Guest
Greg Coghill
15 years 7 months ago

Yes, retailers should be legally accountable for actions that take place on their property. Many articles have been published about the drastic increase of police calls to big-box retailers, particularly Wal-Mart, and the cost it is incurring on those communities. Wal-Mart shifts the cost away to taxpayers instead of taking care of their own problems (sound familiar?). That is unacceptable.

As far as a solution, at least for teenage loiterers, I have heard of a device that emits an annoying sound that can only be heard by younger people and NOT adults. I’m not sure of how effective it is, but it is a clever option. (For sake of entertainment, I will tell you that kids have since used this same technology for cell phone ring tones in order to avoid being reprimanded by teachers in schools.)

Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 7 months ago

Some areas are “business improvement districts” where the local merchants as a group deal with environmental issues. They hire private security services, clean-up crews, cover up graffiti, etc. Sometimes it really pays for retailers to work together. Otherwise, if one retailer “solves” the problem alone, the problem just migrates to other retailers in the neighborhood. And most retailers are too small to solve these problems on their own, anyway.

John Detwiler
Guest
John Detwiler
15 years 7 months ago
A McDonald’s location in downtown Dallas was suffering a few years ago with a growing number of gang-types and thugs hanging around; the problem even manifested itself down the street at the city’s Convention Center, where show attendees were being advised not to walk up the street to patronize the restaurant. Around this time, there was little reason for anyone to be downtown other than to work in offices or to shop at the flagship Neiman Marcus store (the last remaining after other retailers closed or left downtown), then leaving quickly for homes away from the city core. The turnaround for that McDonald’s came when a speaker system was installed, and management began playing classical music outside. This would prove to be successful in thinning out most of the riffraff over time. Later, the building was replaced with another McDonald’s with a retro theme and a different seating layout. The music evolved indoors and out to a 50s/early 60s oldies format. A more recent plus has come with a larger nearby customer base — singles… Read more »
Sherry Moore
Guest
Sherry Moore
15 years 7 months ago

I really like the idea of the classical music being played. Either that or, as another person put it, play a closed loop Barry Manilow tape. Ha ha! The idea of hearing a re-recorded message telling people to leave the parking lot seems very offensive to me. If I happen to be entering or exiting a store with this message playing I would feel as though I too had been lumped into the category of “undesirable loiterer.”

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