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Stolen Goods Possible PR ‘Train Wreck'

4 Jun, 2004 By: Holly J. Wagner

Even when video specialty dealers adhere to their local secondhand dealer laws, there's no guarantee they won't face difficult, potentially expensive and embarrassing situations. DVD's meteoric rise and relative value retention make the discs almost as good as cash — indeed, by the end of the year, Blockbuster Video plans to let consumers spend their old discs like coins at 2,000 of its domestic stores — but that makes discs a great target for thieves. Pawn shops and, increasingly, specialty dealers can make it so easy to convert DVDs and video games to cash that burglarized goods may show up in those stores.

Laws vary on how a dealer who has inadvertently bought stolen goods should handle it, but many dealers say that regardless of the law, dealers are wise to put customer service first and avoid potential public relations nightmares.

In late March, a woman whose home was burglarized saw her stolen game console and discs at the local Electronics Boutique. She reported it to the management but, unsatisfied with the initial results, she also talked to a local TV station, which publicized her plight. Although an Electronics Boutique spokeswoman said the issue was resolved, the news item got national attention.

“That one occurrence was a rare occurrence from our point of view. We contacted the local officials and did exactly what they told us to do,” said Liz O'Sullivan, director of marketing for Electronics Boutique, which offers cash or store credit for used products. “The customer was given a number of options on how to proceed. The customer was given back the fair trade value. They [the store] did not make any money on that. The consumer got the amount that the thief was paid to sell them.”

PrePlayed, a growing, eight-store, all-trade chain (see story on page 6), has developed its own POS software that provides payout and pricing information, and builds in parameters to minimize problems of complying with local laws as well as screening for potentially stolen goods, said COO Ed Geiske.

“One of our Wisconsin stores has to hold product for 10 days, and one 25 minutes away doesn't have to hold them at all. Because we are in multiple states, our system was designed to run nationally,” he said. “Our software was redesigned so every store has a 10-day hold, even if it doesn't need it. That will become the standard, the norm in the country, for doing business. Even if they don't need it, it's still a good business practice. Because if someone does have something stolen, they are going to come in within 10 days and say, ‘I have a problem.’

Halsey Blake-Scott, owner-operator of C-Ville Video and Sneak Reviews in Charlottesville, Va., has a colleague who ended up with a PR black eye because of a mistake.

“A student's apartment was burglarized. An employee [at the store that bought the goods] did not check for the [seller's] ID. The guy who was robbed happened to be in this record store and happened to see what appeared to be his CDs in the store,” Blake-Scott said. The manager was not on the premises, and a clerk wasn't quick to offer to return the product. The burglary victim got law enforcement involved and, even though the issue was ultimately resolved, the store got negative press.

“From a public relations point of view, it was a train wreck for them.”

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