I was shopping today at … well, let’s call it the Stuff Mart, the fictitious big box store made famous in VeggieTales “Madame Blueberry” … I was shopping at the Stuff Mart, just kind of wandering around looking at stuff I didn’t need when I noticed a man acting very strangely. He was a big guy, very tall, heavy, dressed in jeans and a hoodie, and he was clearly following someone.
Not just following, but stalking. I mean peeking around the ends of aisles, going down aisle and peering in between merchandise, almost playing spy. And he was on the phone while he was doing it, reporting to someone every move his prey was making.
It was creepy. I hung around the aisle for a bit – and he made eye contact with me several times and then quickly crouched behind another aisle. And while he was on the phone, it was clearly not a casual conversation. This woman had a target on her back and he was plotting her every position in the store.
As I walked around, I could see him still following the woman, keeping a few aisles behind her.
It was weird, and it made me uncomfortable. Was he an ex-husband? A jealous boyfriend? A friend playing a game? In the end, it weirded me out enough that I had to do something. There were employees around, but as I moved towards them they were moving away (typical customer service) and eventually I just caught up with the woman as she got in the check out line. I told her there was a man following her and that I was creeped out enough by it that I thought she should be careful when she left the store.
She looked around, thanked me, and I went on my way, heading to the book section.
That’s when the big guy came over to me, shoved his Stuff Mart ID in front of my face, and let me know that I’d just interfered with his security team trying to catch the woman stealing a bunch of merchandise.
I apologized, but he was clearly very ticked. Actually, close to irate. As he walked away, I noticed a girl standing next to me, maybe college aged, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. She told me not to worry. “Let me guess,” I said. “You’re security, too?” She nodded. I explained to her why I had told the woman she was being followed, and the security girl told me that I did the right thing, that if indeed someone was stalking the woman then she needed to be alerted. And in this case the woman got out of the check out line and went back to put the stuff away, so the shoplifting was averted.
She also explained that her security partner was frustrated because it was the third time that day someone had tipped off a shoplifter that someone was watching them.
I felt terrible that I had thwarted their sting, but as I went through the checkout myself – I wanted to shop more but I was so embarrassed I had to leave – I realized that I’d really done nothing wrong.
Even more, the security guy was completely out of line to talk to me that way.
So I told the store manager.
I explained that if I had thwarted their security operation the security officer should never have said a thing to me. I also said that if undercover security wasn’t so obvious, they might have a better chance of catching shoplifters.
All the way home I debated about whether or not I should have even told the woman about the man following her, and in the end I think I did the right thing. I thought the woman was possibly in danger. And there was nothing to indicate that this guy was security. In fact, he looked quite the opposite.
And while I suppose the better thing to do would have been to tell a Stuff Mart employee, there wasn’t one around (which may be why people shoplift), and my concern was that the woman would get to the parking lot and get accosted by a stalker.
So what do you think? Would you have stepped in? And do you think the security officer should even have confronted me?