Campus stores annually lose money to theft

Bookstore officials do not raise textbook prices just to inflate their pocketbooks. Last fiscal year, the University Shoppe, campus art store, and Entropy lost over $150,000 in stolen textbooks, souvenirs, and other merchandise. Store officials said that while lamentable, this figure remains relatively constant from year to year.

“It’s a fairly consistent number,” said Patricia Clifford, director of Campus Services, “but it doesn’t do the campus any good.”

The three facilities sold roughly $5.6 million in goods last year. Typically, the amount of stolen products, or shortage, makes up about two percent of this figure. This number does not deviate from the amount a typical retail store loses to stealing in a fiscal year.

The National Association of College Stores reports that over the 2003–2004 fiscal year, the median sales amount for college stores was $3.5 million. Nationally, students spent an average of $704 during that fiscal year.

The shortage at Carnegie Mellon does not affect student tuition, because the stores act as auxiliary services of the University. Profits earned from sales pay for everything that goes into keeping any store running. Rent, custodial costs, employee salaries, credit card fees, and software licenses all come from the stores’ dime.

Clifford noted that Carnegie Mellon stores would like to reinvest more of what students spend back into the University. She said the shortages hinder events such as textbook giveaways and food samplings, events she and the store managers like to hold when the situation permits.

“We’re here for the students,” said Jim Kownacki, bookstore manager. “I’m sure they appreciate us putting [the money] back into the community.”

The bookstore currently increases textbook prices by 25 percent. Kownacki noted if the store switched to a system of closed stacks — a process in which students do not directly access books and clerks retrieve requests manually — the shortages could be cut and increase margins could be lowered to about 22 percent.

However, he said, space constraints make this switch unfeasible.

“We can’t do much more,” Kownacki said. “We don’t want to come off like we don’t trust the students.”

Clifford believes that using a clerk service to access closed textbooks stacks would slow the process down and do less for the campus community. For Clifford, the open shelves benefit the campus more by allowing customers to freely browse and purchase materials outside their study focuses.

“We wanted to build a store that suits everybody’s needs,” said Clifford. “I think to rope that off would be a disservice.”

According to Kownacki, current security measures are more passive than active. To catch thieves that range in identity from Carnegie Mellon students to professional criminals, the store uses video monitors and trains its staff to deal with customers walking out with merchandise.

Both officials emphasized their unwillingness to stereotype against any group of people.

“You can’t describe what a thief would look like,” Clifford said. “But it’s our duty to be suspicious.”

The Computer Store, whose shortages are not included in the $150,000 mentioned, recently moved into the UC basement with the textbook store. Its position among the hardest-hit section of the University Shoppe does not seem to worry employees.

Sales Consultant Jaison Palermo said the Computer Store has always had a handful of items go missing at each inventory. He notes that small items, like rewritable compact disc packs, usually go missing but that big items, like computers, generally stay put.

“I don’t think it’s really been a huge problem,” Palermo said.

If the level of shortage remains constant for the other three stores, however, consistent but typical losses in the six-digit range will remain as thieves walk away with merchandise.

Despite their consistency, these figures frustrate Clifford.

“[Stealing is] just not the act of a good citizen,” said Clifford.