If you want to buy soap at the Walgreens on Market Street in San Francisco, you’ll need to find a store employee to unlock the display case for you.
Fifty dollar earbuds and $100 bottles of Claritin simply sit on the shelves where customers can pick them up and go. But baby formula, shampoo, and soap are all protected by locked display cases.
It’s well known that pharmacies need to protect their stores of cold medicine, which methamphetamine cooks can use to make illicit drugs. But why soap? Is a $6 bottle of Dove body wash really worth the squeeze?
A Walgreens keeps its precious Dove soap under lock and key
Managers at Walgreens have concluded that it is. If you go to a store and ask, retail assistants will explain that the locks prevent thefts.
Understanding why pharmacies lock up soap—rather than more expensive and appealing items—requires an appreciation of the market for stolen goods.
The key to understanding the appeal of soap to thieves is realizing that they care less about an item’s price tag and more about the ease of finding a buyer. In other words, thieves want a liquid asset.
This principle, along with the dynamics of thefts, are ably explained by an article in theJournal of Criminology based on a U.K. crime reduction study. It’s titled “How Prolific Thieves Sell Stolen Goods.”
The main markets for humble, shoplifted and stolen goods are in low-income, urban areas where people shop primarily at corner stores and street vendors. A British Crime Survey, the authors of the article explain, found that 11% of people interviewed said they had bought stolen goods in the last 5 years, and 30-40% of men in areas with “adverse area or personal wealth factors” bought what they believed to be stolen goods.
Knowingly or not, families in these areas purchase stolen or “fenced” goods often enough that thieves interviewed for the crime reduction study portrayed themselves as “one person among many providing an essential, albeit criminal, service in supplying the wants of a bargain seeking general public.”
These thieves sell their goods in one of 5 common ways: