[NBC NEWS, GETTY IMAGES,]
“Predominantly African American people are buying those products, so the assumption is we’re thieves,” said one customer.
“Like other retailers, the cases were put in place to deter shoplifters from some products such as electronics, automotive, cosmetics and other personal care products,” a spokesperson for Walmart said.
Walmart will no longer place “multicultural hair care and beauty products” in locked cases in any of its stores, the company confirmed Wednesday.
The practice, which Walmart says was only in place “in about a dozen” of its 4,700 U.S. stores, has received criticism for the implication that the customers who buy these products, largely people of color, can’t be trusted. The cases must be unlocked by a store associate, and the products are usually then taken to the front of the store for purchase.
CBS Denver reporter Tori Mason was the first to disclose the change, after receiving an email from Walmart in response to her story highlighting a situation that people of color have long faced.
Walmart customer Judah Bell said the process is “humiliating” and is something she’s noticed at select locations across the country, usually those in more “urban, less affluent areas.”
Bell said that because her local Walmart uses the locked cases, she will drive 11 minutes further to a more affluent area and shop at that Walmart, where she doesn’t have to deal with such treatment. She said the longer drive can sometimes end up saving time.
“In my neighborhood Walmart, you have to go find somebody and then if they don’t have the key, they have to find somebody, so you’re just standing there waiting, sometimes for as long as 10 to 15 minutes,” Bell said.
She shared photos taken on Wednesday at two different Walmart stores located in economically different neighborhoods. Neither location had “multicultural” beauty products in cases, but the location in the less affluent community had many more items locked in cases, including cold medicine, children’s medicine, body wash, and cosmetics.
Walmart spokesman Lorenzo Lopez told NBC News that the company is “sensitive to the issue and understands the concerns” and would be implementing the change in policy “as soon as possible.”
“As a retailer serving millions of customers every day from diverse backgrounds, Walmart does not tolerate discrimination of any kind. Like other retailers, the cases were put in place to deter shoplifters from some products such as electronics, automotive, cosmetics and other personal care products,” Lopez said.
While many of these personal care products were placed in cases, equivalent products targeted at a less “multicultural” customer received no such placement.
Bell said she once asked a Walmart employee why they kept those products under lock and key and was told that those products have higher theft rates, but was not presented with any data to support that. Walmart confirmed to NBC News that the decision to place certain hair and beauty products in cases was based on theft data, and that it varied by market. It would not share that data.
“It’s hard for a customer to dispute that but predominantly African American people are buying those products, so the assumption is we’re thieves,” she said. “I try not to shop anywhere where I’m assumed to be a thief.”
Walmart isn’t alone in facing scrutiny for this practice. Many other personal care stores and national chains such as CVS and Walgreens have been accused of doing this. Walgreens and CVS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
By Ahiza García-Hodges and Chiara Sottile