Customer shows grocery store’s self-checkout exits blocked by automatic gates

@earlypete/TikTok Drobot Dean/Adobe Stock (Licensed)

‘Every single possible exit is blocked’: Customer says grocery store’s anti-theft security gates are dangerous

'Why do we think it’s normal now for stores to treat us like criminals?'


Braden Bjella


Posted on Mar 30, 2024

In-store shopping has changed dramatically in recent years. With the rise of self-checkout machines has come a subsequent increase in security measures, ranging from locking items behind glass to closing off entire aisles to customers.

While the intention behind these moves may be to reduce the risk of theft, shoppers have reported that these enhanced security measures have made for unpleasant shopping experiences. For example, one Walmart shopper complained that buying a video game, groceries, and cosmetics from her local store now requires three separate transactions.

Now, a TikTok user is claiming that these security measures may be making customers less safe.

In a video with over 534,000 views, TikTok user Peter Earley (@earlypete) shows himself walking through the checkout area of a grocery store.

“What’s happening here, as you can see, is every single possible exit from the main floor of this grocery store is blocked or obscured in some way,” he explains. “You see those little gates between the cash registers that aren’t in use? There’s a whole fence and a set of alarmed automatic gates in front of these self-checkouts.”

These gates, he says, could pose issues for wheelchair users, those with mobility issues, or those trying to leave the store quickly.

“How could you get through that in a wheelchair? How could you get through that if you were running in a fire?” he asks.

“And why is it OK?” he continues. “Why do we think it’s normal now for grocery stores to treat us like criminals?”

Earley is not alone; one expert consulted by Forbes estimated that increased security measures like locking items up “typically results in a 15% to 25% reduction in sales,” with the expert noting that “customers who don’t want to go through the hassle of flagging down and waiting for an employee will just leave.”

“Who knew 2024 was going to be the year of LESS fire exits?!” writes Earley in the caption of his video. “Seriously how are grocery stores allowed to do this? It’s not a matter of if but when somebody gets seriously or fatally injured.”

Earley’s own experiences with these gates have been negative, he tells the Daily Dot in an email.

“It has ranged from mild inconvenience, such as not being able to find an exit or having to squeeze past people or jump over barriers to leave the store if they did not have the item I was looking for, to incidents that made me feel unsafe, such as having to remove part of a baby stroller before I could fit it through barriers and exit the store,” he explains.

He claims that he’s brought this issue up with several workers at stores with mixed results.

“I have mentioned to several store managers at a variety of locations that I think the barriers are unsafe and anti-consumer, but they have all responded that they ‘have no say in the matter and that it is a corporate decision,'” he details. “As far as bugging general employees, it’s not their fault and they’re just trying to earn a paycheck, so I would never do such a thing.”

@earlypete Replying to @Dinkleburg.fa1 who knew 2024 was going to be the year of LESS fire exits?! seriously how are grocery stores allowed to do this? It’s not a matter of if but when somebody gets seriously or fatally injured. #groceryhaul #exposed ♬ original sound – Early Pete

In the comments section, users shared their own distaste for the contemporary shopping experience.

“It’s so frustrating. I’ve gone into stores trying to find a particular thing and they don’t have it, and I basically have to wait in line to get out,” a user wrote.

“The dirty looks employees have given me when I sneak through self-checkout just to get out cause I didn’t buy anything,” added another. “Also why are bathrooms always on the other side of the bars. It’s like a maze.”

“I was just trying to get to a restroom with my baby & my stroller wouldn’t fit through those weird gates,” recalled a third. “I felt like a prisoner for trying to change my babies diaper.”

Earley’s main concern, he says, is safety.

“I have been in direct contact with the relevant fire inspection authorities. They say that if exits have posted signs on them, they cannot be used for general ingress or egress. I have personally witnessed many staff using marked fire doors that seem to have the alarm deactivated for exactly this purpose,” he states. “Furthermore, some stores have begun to use the fire exit door to bring groceries out for grocery delivery service, with posted fire exit information still on the door. This means if someone was to see a fire and attempt to exit the alarm would not go off and the rest of the store would be at risk.”

“Based on my communication with fire inspectors, it seems as if the corporations are finding loopholes and skirting the law, but not outwardly breaking it by installing these massive metal barriers to prevent anyone leaving by anything other than the single approved main exit,” he continues. “So sadly, it is up to consumer pressure or a revision of the regulations, to force them into changing.”

To conclude, he issues a warning for those stores that he says are skirting rules in this manner.

“Fire codes are written in blood. The rules and regulation that makes them up are there because someone died. Just because what grocery stores are doing isn’t explicitly against the law doesn’t mean it won’t cause a fatality,” he says. “Human life is more important than a store’s bottom line. We shouldn’t need a tragedy to realize that what these grocery stores are doing and being allowed to do is unquestionably dangerous. I want this to change, but I don’t want the catalyst for that change to be human life. Sadly, it seems like that might be inevitable.”

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*First Published: Mar 30, 2024, 8:06 am CDT