Being Watched As You Shop


How often have you stepped into a store knowing full well that several pairs of eyes are watching your every move intently? These days, it’s not just jewelry shops that have security guards positioned strategically at the store entrance, it’s every conceivable retail outlet you can think of, hypermarkets, supermarkets, department stores, bookshops, pharmacies, electrical shops and even furniture shops which makes me wonder how anyone can possibly spirit away a chair or sofa set under anyone’s nose.

Before I go on, I can emphatise with store owners who possibly lose thousands every year if they didn’t have proper and tight security procedures in place. I am aware that there are many light-fingered people out there who will take every opportunity to shoplift petty items, whether it’s because they are habitual and incurable shoplifters or out of desperation.

However, it’s becoming more and more discomfiting and disconcerting to be watched even as you are walking around for fun in malls or if you happen to stand outside a particular shop with a wary and watchful security as you take a phone call. It seems as if you can’t enter a shop these days without being automatically presumed that you have bad intentions. Is every shopper presumed to be a shoplifter unless proven otherwise?

In a newly opened hypermarket near my house, security guards are aplenty, sometimes even more than shoppers. They take turns to watch the CCTV in front of the hypermarket entrance which makes me wonder if they can zoom in on a shopper’s cleavage. I overheard a male shopper remark to his friend (when he was being watched by security) that he was just there to shop, not to steal.

Are we the only country where our bags are sealed by plastic tags before we enter shops? It’s not just hypermarkets that do this, a certain bookshop does this too. I was at the entrance of a Bangkok supermarket where there was a security guard and I was expecting him to do the same thing to my bags so I thrust my bags at him but he just waved me in. Perhaps there are less incidences of shoplifting in Thailand?

While I believe security measures are a necessary evil, I’d like for security to be more subtle when they are watching shoppers. I am fine with surveillance as long as it’s done a lot more surreptitiously. If I enter a hypermarket without a trolley or a basket, I am there to pick up just one or two items but that makes security guards suspicious because a genuine shopper should be walking around with a trolley/basket, no?

The presence of security guards at most retail outlets gives foreign visitors the impression that we are a nation of petty thieves and shoplifters. The one place we could do with more security, quite often it is lacking and that place is mall car parks. If there was as much security in car parks as there are inside the malls, a lot of crime towards women could have been prevented.

No wonder there is a demand for foreign workers to fill the security guard positions. One problem with this is that when you really need help with something, you may not even be able to get through to the security guard because of the language barrier but that’s another story altogether.