Preying on C Cs’ customers

Depot managers have welcomed security advice leaflets (pictured above) that have been published by the FWD warning retailers to be vigilant against the threat of theft from their vehicles while visiting cash and carries.

The leaflets are designed to be distributed at the checkout and warn of the risk of leaving valuables and purchases, particularly tobacco products, in unattended vehicles, and encourage customers to be alert to suspicious activity in and around cash and carry car parks.

Retailers are also advised to be wary of being followed after leaving the cash and carry or of bogus attempts to flag them down.

All the depot managers Wholesale News spoke to recognised the scenarios described in the leaflet and said it was a problem for the industry.

A manager of a group of cash and carries told Wholesale News there had been attempts to snatch tobacco and cash in his depots’ car parks, adding: “It’s something that comes in bursts and then dies down.” Although no customers had reported being followed after leaving his depots, he had been told about instances at competitors’ depots.

He said: “We’ve put the advice in a poster in our car parks. It’s a delicate balance between making sure retailers are vigilant but not fearful of going to the cash and carry. We have a uniformed presence in our depot car parks and I think that gives them some reassurance. It’s also important to make sure staff are vigilant too.”

He said police had made an arrest at one depot after staff had reported suspicious activity.

Another manager commented: “Customers up and down the country are being targeted so any advice has got to be a good thing. I work very closely with our local police and talk to them quite lot. It hasn’t been a problem at our depot, but customers have told me about snatches that have occurred at another depot near the city centre. They talk about security a lot and it’s always on their minds.”

Nevertheless, another depot manager said retailers needed to be reminded to take care. He said: “They [the leaflets]are definitely needed. It’s amazing the risks that some retailers take. They will buy cigarettes from one depot and then leave them in their car while they visit another, so they do need advice to remind them to take precautions.

“We have had incidents in the past but nothing recently. Customers are constantly telling me about it happening at other depots though.”

Responding to articles in the trade press about attacks on retailers, FWD chief executive James Bielby said: “Although some retailers may be concerned about the threat of robbery when leaving cash and carries, there is no evidence that this type of crime is increasing, and such incidents seem to be thankfully quite rare.

“We have issued guidance purely as a preventative, precautionary measure. While we don’t want anyone to be alarmed, it is advisable for retailers to be aware of this type of crime and know how to prevent it where possible.”

Cash and carries not liable for theft carried out in their car parks

If a retailer has tobacco stolen from them in the cash and carry car park, it is unlikely the cash and carry will have any legal liability towards their customer, according to solicitor Sebastian Calnan.

He says the issue of ownership of goods bought at a cash and carry depends on the trading terms the customer signs up to when they become a member.

“A well organised cash and carry would have retention of title so that if the customer receives credit the goods remain the property of the cash and carry until they are paid for, and the cash and carry will in some cases still have a claim on them until all the retailer’s debts to it are discharged. However, the retailer will be contracted to pay for the goods, so even if they were stolen from the retailer in the cash and carry car park and he is no longer in possession of them, he is still obliged to pay for them.”

In a straight cash transaction, in law there is a binding contract as the retailer passes through the till; ownership passes to them at that stage. A cash and carry can also not be held responsible if a crime takes place in its car park.

If the theft is from a valued customer and the cash and carry decides to replace the goods or make some other gesture it needs to tread carefully however, and make it clear it is acting on the basis of no liability. Calnan warns that the manager saying this orally may be difficult to prove and something in writing ideally a standard form with wording agreed by the company’s legal advisor should be provided.

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