Loyola University Chicago

Quinlan School of Business

Wal-Mart's loss is student's gain

Alicia Carlson Pic

Alicia Carlson—once an intern, now a budding corporate exec.

Alicia Carlson knows the five-finger discount better than anyone.

For two months this summer, Carlson interned as an asset protection analyst for Wal-Mart, meticulously studying employee routines at stores in the Chicago area, helping with inventory, poring over spreadsheets, and investigating what competitors do to prevent theft.

This is what the industry calls "shrink," the loss of inventory because of customer and employee theft, supplier fraud, and/or errors in paperwork.

Beauty queen 

Carlson had her work cut out for her. She was charged with looking at the cosmetics, health, and beauty aids department, a division that typically reports a high amount of shrink—accounting for almost 70 percent of total shrink. Products are small and therefore easily misplaced or stolen. Then there is the sheer amount of products—everything from Maybelline lipstick (the most commonly stolen item) to nail polish—not to mention the thieves themselves, who can come from where you might least expect it.

“Forty-five percent of theft is internal, and that’s what I decided to focus my research on—how to prevent internal theft,” Carlson says. “It was a lot of trial and error, and it involved every aspect of the Wal-Mart supply chain. I started with the first person who touched the product.”

Out of the box

Carlson presented her findings to the divisional team and outlined eight solutions to help mitigate shrink.

“They told me to think outside the box,” she says. “That was something I liked. I could take it anywhere, and I had the freedom to voice what was necessary.”

The team liked what they saw: They sent Carlson's recommendations all the way up to corporate and offered her a full-time job upon graduation.

“What I got from this experience is that I want to work in retail," Carlson says, "and where better to do that than at Wal-Mart?”