TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Re: What Wal-Mart Knows About Customers' Habits

Re: What Wal-Mart Knows About Customers' Habits

Robert Bonomi (
Mon, 22 Nov 2004 09:11:17 +0000

In article <>,
the Moderator pontificates:

> [TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: Have you ever considered applying for a
> job as a Walmart 'customer service' representative? You already have
> their list of excuses perfectly memorized.

Facts _are_ facts. Even when you don't like them.

I don't know diddly-squat about Walmart's operations.

I _do_ happen to worked on charge-processing software, and written
clearing- house interfaces. I _know_ what/where the possible failure
modes are, and the checks that are there, both real-time and
otherwise, to detect them.

> When I first called then
> went back to the store, for all I knew, the clerk *had* swiped me
> three times, then took the money out of the register for the two
> additional swipes and pocketed it.

I've been in a Walmart precisely _once_ in my life (BB's are d*mn
hard to find in the big cities these days -- the kid at the local
hardware store said "what are BBs?" *sigh* Walmart is about the
*only* place in the area that has 'em. I wasn't going shooting, I
just needed a bunch of 'em as lightweight ball-bearings. Anyway ...)
In that store, and in *every* *other*store*of*any*type* that takes
'mixed bag' (debit, credit, check, ATM) cards that I've been in in the
last circa 10 years, the card NEVER LEAVES THE CUSTOMER'S HAND.

Now, maybe your store _is_ different in that respect, but I take leave
to doubt it. The fact that the card remains in the customer's
possession are some of the "basic protections" against 'employee
theft' fraud that are usually required by contract from (a) the card
issuer, and (b) the clearing-house, before you can process such
cards. (For precessing credit/debit cards _only_, the requirements
are not as strict.)

> There had been an article in the Independence Reporter a few days
> earlier about a cashier at Walmart who had gotten arrested for
> stealing several thousand dollars from the store and some customers.

There are *very* limited ways for a cashier to themselves steal cash
money 'from the store', and approximately _one_ way to steal from the
customers, with 'computerized' registers.

Doing multiple charges against a card is simply *not* one of them.
The audit trail catches it at the end-of-shift, or over-night, at
worst. And the records point directly to the perp.

Stealing from the customer involves either 'under-counting' cash he
gives you to pay for a purchase, or 'short-changing' what you give

A cashier, and customer, _in_collusion_, can steal merchandise from
the store, by the simple expedient of the cashier 'failing to ring'
the item as it passes to the sacking area.

Stealing money from the till is a real problem. There is a known
count (counted by _several_ people, including you) in the till when
you start, every sale is recorded, how much money is given in, and how
much change is given out, are also recorded. If you over-state the
amount of money given in, the amount of change is over-stated by
exactly the same amount. Excess credits, or coupons show on the
amount due from the customer, and the customer expects to pay only
what is shown as 'due'. If you 'over-charge' for items, the computer
expects _that_ money to be in the till.

If you 'under-charge', the customer does not expect to -pay- that
undercharged amount. At end-of-shift there is, again, a
multiple-person 'count' of the money in the till. It had _better_
match what the computer 'says' should be there. If the count is
'short', you're a suspect for stealing from the company; and, if it is
'long', you're a suspect for short-changing customers. Really_ small
amounts, like 10 cents or less, _may_ get overlooked. Unless they
happen frequently. *Many* years ago, a cashier got caught -- he was
systematically short-changing customers -- _because_ when the count
for his till was off, it was _always_ on the high side. He didn't
want the store to 'suspect' he was stealing, so he made sure that any
error was in the store's favor.

[.. munch ..]]

> They did **not** check any tapes or logs to either
> verify or deny what I said, just saying 'it could not have happened
> because our procedures call for X followed by Y and Z.'

Bringing up the possibility of 'employee theft' early on, putting them
on the defensive -- was *not* particularly smart. At least, not if
you wanted their help in getting to the bottom of things.

If the card never leaves your hand, they are correct. it could *not*
happened via multiple swipes. *Unless* _you_ did it, in which case it
=is= valid multiple charges. :)

Whether you believe it or not, the 'customer premises equipment' for
swiping the card, and transmitting the information upstream to the
clearinghouse is the *most*extensively*tested* part of the entire
system, and the _second_least_ likely place for there to be any
problems. (The least likely place is the interaction between the cash
register and the card reader -- because it is a -series- of steps that
all must occur in the proper sequence. If anything goes wrong
part-way through, the only recovery is 'cancel and start over from the
beginning', and *nothing* goes upstream until the entire sequence is

*Almost*invariably* when something of this sort happens, it is a
communications_ problem _between_ two systems. In broad, as follows:
System 'a' sends a transaction to system 'b'; system 'b' sends an
'ack' back to system 'a'. *BUT* system 'a' "sees" an error return
from 'b', instead of the 'ack'. FAILURE #1 Because it got an 'error'
response 'a' *re-sends* the transaction. System 'b' _should_ catch
this, because it has the same 'transaction ID' as a prior one that was
already processed. Postulate the ID got garbled on the re-send.
FAILURE #2. B now 'acks' _this_ transaction (this is the second time
it has seen and acked what should have been a single transaction).
System 'a' 'sees' the ack and moves on to the next transaction.

Result: 'a' thinks it has submitted the transaction _once_,
'b' thinks it has received *two* separate transactions.

The discrepancy shows *only* when the 'end-of-day' (shift, whatever)
totals are compared between the two systems.

One _cannot_ prevent this kind of problem from =ever= happening. One
can take steps to (a) make it unlikely, and (b) ensure that it is
-detected- after-the-fact, in a 'relatively timely' manner.

> I've also told Bob Donaldson (local Walmart manager) that his store
> security officers were pretty obnoxious also and that he should fire
> them and get more responsible guys to work at his store, and that he
> might start getting people to work there who helped customers out to
> their car or taxi with shopping bags, or made home delivery like other
> stores in town do. The whole place is really a dreadful store. PAT]

Yup. That's why you shop there. It's dreadful, and doesn't provide
the services you want.

Helping customers out to their car or taxi, or making home deliveries
COSTS MONEY. Surprisingly _large_ amounts of money. Walmart sells
'low prices', not 'service'. If you want service, go 'somewhere
else', and pay more. Available evidence says that _most_ people
prefer 'low prices' to 'service'. This is not the fault of the

I do a fair amount of my shopping at 'no frills' stores. I do *not*
expect 'full service' from those stores; I *do* expect their prices to
reflect that they are not 'full service'. I _also_ shop at some 'full
price' stores. *Because* of the 'service' they provide. Like knowing
_where_ to refer me, when they are 'not the right source' for what I'm
looking for -- saving me _hours_ of research. That *is* worth 'paying
extra' for, so they continue to get my business. They also carry a
'better grade' of product, so when I'm looking for 'quality', I go
there first.

[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: You are generally correct as far as the
plastic never leaving my hands. At the bank of cash registers, there
is an LED screen facing the cashier and a side facing the
customer. The side facing me had a place to slide your card, and a
keypad to enter your PIN as needed. The cashier slides your item
across a glass thing which examines it and reads the bar code, the the
register makes a 'ping' noise and the display screen says what the
item was and how much it costs. If the register does not make its
'ping noise' they slide it over the glass again until the register
*does* ping. If it never will ping (I have seen that happen, then the
cashier manually enters the price on the keypad on that side, But they
work so rapidly I cannot keep up with them. With a debit card if you
want cash back, you tell the cashier and that amount is added to the
total you paid, and it is treated like amount due, total tendered
(sale plus cash back) and change due (amount of the cash back). Bob
Donaldson told me once that each cashier has to check their money box
out of the office when they start their shift.

But in the customer service office, it is different. If you want to
purchase a money order for example, you cannot use a credit card, only
a debit card (bank/ATM card). So they want to take your card, look at
it, etc. When the computer finishes printing up your money orders or
your postage stamps (and other things you buy in that area) then the
customer service person swipes your card on her side of the counter.

I do not shop at Independence Walmart because of the dreadful service
and things they do not do; I shop there *in spite of all that* when
I cannot get an item elsewhere or I happen to be at my hair dresser
which is a block north and happen to recall something I need to get
to take back home with me. Very rarely do I go there; usually I just
call Jeff and tell him to come back to Klassy Klippers and get me
to go back home, and *maybe*/maybe not as needed I have him stop
downtown for me to get something on the way back. PAT]

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