Woolworths and the missing CCTV footage that was not missing at all

Woolworths and the missing CCTV footage that was not missing at all

Opinion Piece: Benita Enoch, founder Newsful: Useful News Now. 

One hardly needs convincing that CCTV cameras in retail stores is imperative to have. Aside from the obvious protection and proof of theft aspect, CCTV footage is instrumental in proving negligence.

Last week, I was shopping at a Woolworths food store in Douglas Village, when an employee sent glass bottles plunging to the ground from the top shelf. My partner and I were walking in the aisle and under the bottles when it went flying. Long story short, we both dashed in opposite directions, and missed being struck by shards of glass but felt the brunt of of the sticky contents of the bottles. 

Neither the negligence of the worker, nor the response of the staff were called to questioned the next day, when we called the store to request viewing the footage of the incident. And this, is where our story begins. 

According to a recorded phone call -- which cannot be played due to notice of the recording not being given -- the person dealing with the incident said the footage from the night before was not available because the CCTV system was not working. He also said the CCTV system was old and that it has been down for nearly a week. He laughed sympathetically and offered us a store voucher of R300.

When his response was heard, several questions were raised. Why would a 21st century organisation like Woolworths have an old and non working surveillance system? Was it just the result of a healthy farm were biodiversity was being persevered? What would have happened if a customer was injured in the incident? The fact is, on the night in question, two little children had been running feverishly around the store in a game of cat and mouse. Their Tom and Jerry antics could have ended in a tragedy far less humorous. Was Woolworths actually lying to the patrons, without consideration for the fact that one of them was a journalist? It was time to find out. 

We took our questions to the retailer's head office. According to Woolworths spokesperson Nelisa Mpofana, the CCTV footage was indeed available. She said a miscommunication between managers happened leading one of them to believe the contrary. She said we could arrange a time to view it at the store and at our convenience. 

Still, the food retailer's choice of words left a fishy smell in the air. In 2014, a customer had purchased a salad from Woolworths and discovered a dead and decaying frog in the sealed bag. At the time, Woolworths' response that was wildlife, insects, birds and frogs were part of a healthy farm and that the dead animal had obviously escaped the company's excellent quality checks. And then it happened again. Read: Dead frog found in Woolworths' salad

Even after receiving their response regarding the CCTV cameras, it's inexcusable that two people could have miscommunicated a working surveillance system. Was this misconception between senior managers part of the healthy farm Woolworths maintains to preserves biodiversity? Or was it in fact, a poor reflection on their quality? 

The conclusion to the matter is that no reasonable excuse can be given for why patrons were given different versions when contacting Woolworths in their personal and then professional capacities. 

In the 21st century, quality matters. It matters as much to the individual as it does to the corporate giant. I'm not writing this to stir up a campaign against Woolworths. In many ways, the company excels and sets a social standard. They have their version and I have mine. Woolworths has invited my partner and I to view the footage at the store. Prior to that, we were offered R300 for our trouble. Neither is a good enough offer. The only suitable offer is for Woolworths to own up to a visibly lacking quality and to do better. It's all any of us can do, really.


Q: Is the footage truly unavailable or does this employee want to prevent action being taken?

We encourage our customers to raise their concerns  with us and try to foster an environment where constructive feedback is welcomed . The footage for this incident is available and can be viewed upon arrangement with the store manager.  At the time of the incident, the store manager had not requested any footage for that period since the assumption was that the incident was resolved.  He was informed by the Department Manager who dealt with the customer at first point of contact regarding the incident and hence was aware of the peripheral details and did not require the footage.

Q:  If the footage is unavailable, for how long was the camera not been in working order?

The CCTV camera system is in operation and was not out of order during this time.  There may have been a miscommunication between the store manager and Mr A***** E***** when the subject of footage was discussed.

Q: Does Woolworths believe that it is important to have working cameras to prove innocence or guilt or to observe quality checks?

In this instance, the store manager did not feel that the footage of the accident was required, as he at no stage questioned the customer’s version of events and he expressed this sentiment to Mr E*****.  The footage was never called into question nor was there any reason to use this to corroborate the customer’s version of events.  The store team acknowledged that they may have erred in the manner in which the replenishment of the shelves took place, as well as confirming that, although an accident, there may have been a way to prevent it from happening.

Q: How would Woolworths receive the version of our story, including the extent to wish we were affected in the incident, without the footage being available?

Our first priority is to accept our customers account of what transpired.  In the event that footage is required to bring clarity to an incident, we do not use it in isolation.  All accounts i.e footage, witness statements etc are used in the investigation into any incident."

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