Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

You're doing your shopping. Yes, in an actual grocery store that physically exists.

You're tossing between prunes and oatmeal when out of the corner of your eye you see something odd.

A fellow shopper is stuffing several kitchen utensils inside his coat pocket. He doesn't appear to be keen on paying for them.

Do you ignore it? Do you assume the store has cameras that'll capture the action and ensure he's accosted before he leaves? Or do you, perhaps, report it to someone at the store?

I only ask because famous British grocer Tesco thought it a good idea to put up signs in front of various products. These read: 

Help us build safer communities -- report shoplifting to a member of staff.

I suspect one or two people might wonder what shoplifting has to do with safer communities. A shoplifter is stealing from a business. Theft happens everywhere. It's built into the cost of business.

What made Tesco's move a little worse is that it put some of these signs on the shelving that housed feminine hygiene products.

This drove many toward apoplexy. 

Some pointed out that condoms are available for free. Why shouldn't tampons be free too? Others mused that, thanks to these signs, they'd definitely not report anyone stealing feminine hygiene products now.

Before asking customers to do something beyond their usual roles, it's worth thinking very hard about their reactions. Did Tesco seriously imagine that encouraging customers to become part of its security team would be well-received? Especially in times where the world seems especially unequal and the U.K. is about as united as the U.S.?

There's another, equally odd, aspect to all this.

Many retailers specifically instruct their own employees not to intercept shoplifters. 

In recent years, good-hearted employees at Home Depot have, more than once, lost their jobs because they chased those who had allegedly stolen items.

Why, then, would any store want to co-opt customers to be security personnel? And what of the legal ramifications if, say, a shopper is mistaken about another shopper's intentions?

I'm sure there are many who believe it's their basic duty to report any crime they witness. I'm sure many would be more likely to report shoplifters when they have a particular affinity to a store -- for example, when it's a local corner store they regularly visit.

For its part, Tesco retreated rapidly, claiming it understands that essential sanitary products are expensive for many. It added: 

We want everyone to feel welcome in our stores and are very sorry for any offense caused.

Somewhere, though, someone thought this was a good idea. I wonder what their thought process was.

Published on: Feb 9, 2020
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.