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November 20, 2013

Why are shoplifters flocking to this one Wal-Mart?

(Continued)

So what's gone wrong at the Stapleton Wal-Mart? While I've never been to this particular store, its Yelp reviews are almost all negative, with many reviewers criticizing the store for being cluttered and short-staffed. You can take a single Yelp review with a grain of salt, of course — but when multiple reviews over multiple years cite the same exact problems, it seems likely that those problems actually exist. "It's crowded, dirty and the produce section is just gross," one reviewer wrote in 2012. "This place sucks, it's packed, dirty and the employees are just straight up rude," wrote someone else that same year. "This store is crowded, dirty, and busy. Shelves are not restocked," another wrote in 2013.

The Stapleton Wal-Mart has received 34 total Yelp reviews, 17 of which award the store a measly one star. (The store received two four-star reviews and zero five-star reviews.) Compare this with the Home Depot down the street, which has received 22 total Yelp reviews. Nine of those are four-star reviews; five of them are one-star reviews. The word "helpful" is used in a positive context in seven separate Home Depot reviews; the word "friendly" is used in five reviews. Neither of those words is found in any Wal-Mart reviews.

How does all this relate to shoplifting? Research has shown that shoplifters seek out cluttered stores with indifferent employees. In 2006 a University of Florida master's student named Caroline Cardone analyzed data from the Loss Prevention Research Council and found that a store's layout can have a huge impact on retail theft. By tidying up, installing mirrors to reduce blind spots, and implementing a few more design tweaks, stores can significantly reduce their shoplifting losses.

Peters writes Slate's crime blog. @slatecrime.

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