Application of Opportunity Cost at Wal-Mart
Think about shoplifting from the perspective of a giant retailer like Wal-Mart. What is the optimal policy for prosecuting shoplifters? Prosecute every shoplifter, regardless of age and the amount stolen? That's probably not an optimal policy, considering the monetary costs to Wal-Mart of prosecution for legal fees and for paying employees to appear in court; and the opportunity cost to Wal-Mart of prosecuting shoplifters, in terms of the time involved by employees apprehending shoplifters and holding them until police arrive, etc.
Unlike most other retailers, Wal-Mart used to follow a zero-tolerance, 100% prosecution policy for shoplifting, but switched last summer to a policy where it will no longer prosecute first-time shoplifters, unless they are between 18 and 65 and steal more than $25 worth of merchandise.
From a NY Times article, J. P. Suarez, who is in charge of asset protection at Wal-Mart, said it was no longer efficient to prosecute petty shoplifters. ''If I have somebody being paid $12 an hour processing a $5 theft, I have just lost money,'' he said. ''I have also lost the time to catch somebody stealing $100 or an organized group stealing $3,000.''