The success of Target’s private security force in solving crimes is gaining a great deal of notice in the media these days, especially since the retail giant has helped numerous local police departments throughout the country with their investigations. The ability of Target’s undercover operatives to spot a shoplifter at seventy-five yards is nothing short of uncanny and their ability to perform surveillance on everything that goes on in their stores, everything that goes on in their parking lots, and everything that goes on in the homes of anyone who has ever bought anything at Target is nothing less than astounding, as well as being a great asset to local law enforcement agencies who would not otherwise be able to perform such surveillance themselves.
As a result of the demand for Target’s services, other retailers are now trying to get into the market. Sears has already announced that they will be providing a full range of investigative services next year, including homicide and armed robbery investigations. Macy’s is already in the crime market with a full product line of specialty investigations that emphasize crimes committed during the January white sales. But as yet, despite the interest and the example of Target, Sears, and Macy’s, most retailers are eying the crime market cautiously. Bloomingdales, for example, planned to get into white collar crime, stock fraud, and real estate fraud early next year, but after a board meeting late last year the chairman put those plans on hold; an in-house study showed that investigating and convicting people responsible for these crimes would cut sharply into Bloomingdale’s corps of loyal New York City customers and so the chairman of the board dropped the whole idea pending further thought. For most retailers, however, the whole question of this market comes down to what Wal-Mart intends to do.
At the moment, no one can say if America’s largest retailer has any immediate plans to enter the crime market; the corporation is not saying much about the subject one way or the other, which is disquieting for other, smaller retailers. No one wants to spend the money needed to make a play for a share of this market if Wal-mart intends to get into law enforcement in a big way, so faced with the frightening prospect of the biggest kid on the block taking away their market share, many smaller retailers are developing specialty crime-fighting skills in order to dominate niche markets that Wal-mart and the other large retailers may overlook. Filene’s, for example, is looking for opportunities in stock fraud and prostitution, Barnes & Noble has already moved quietly into bank robbery and arson for hire, and the deli where I buy my lunch everyday is setting up its own coroner’s unit, which reminds me that I should avoid buying their roast pork sandwiches—there’s no telling what’s going into those sandwiches these days.
Still, the introduction of market forces into a traditionally public sector area cannot help but drive down crime as it becomes more profitable to solve crimes than commit them. Given that there will always be a certain demand for these services, human nature being what it is, companies that make the plunge into this market should never fear that they will lose their shirts entirely even if Wal-mart decides to get into the market; there is enough business here for everyone, it seems.