What 'secret' loudspeaker codes mean at department stores

Walmart security watches shoppers enter on Black FridayIf you've been shopping in a big box retail store you've probably heard an announcement on the loudspeaker such as, "code yellow toys, code yellow toys." This "code" is one of many innocuous sounding secret codes that stores use to alert employees to problems without distracting you from shopping.

We tracked down some current and former retail employees to help you decode what's coming out of the loudspeakers at Walmart and other stores.
Security to section 12
While many stores do have plainclothes security personnel, they don't always have them on duty or able to respond to every suspected shoplifter. My own experience working at a Kmart long ago included the instruction to page security to some random section of the store if I thought something was amiss. This was twofold protection since it gave the appearance of security in the store but didn't alert shoplifters to the specific location.

Code yellow, code black and code Adam
More than likely you are familiar with code Adam, which is used to signify a lost child, but many stores have a list of codes to deal with other situations.
  • Code yellow - A child has had an "accident"
  • Code red - Fire in store
  • Code orange - Chemical spill
  • Code black - Severe weather
  • Code blue – Bomb threat
  • Code brown – Shooting
These codes come from retail workers at Walmart and Kmart as well as from the Broken Secrets blog that also has a collection of codes in hospitals.

The loudspeaker codes may vary from store to store, and as Michael J Citak from Middletown, Conn., told WalletPop, the codes could be used to alert employees to more than standard emergencies. Citak said via e-mail that when he worked at Kmart, employees would call a "code DM" to alert other employees that a District Manager was nearby, which meant they should straighten up their departments.

Some store speakers don't need to say anything to call attention to a specific employee or section of the store. They rely instead on a series of tones that sound an alert or page a manager without distracting customers enough that they stop shopping.

WalletPop editor Tony Davenport recalls this system being used at Abraham & Strauss when he worked there before the chain went out of business in the '80s, and our travel expert Jason Cochran fondly recalled the "bongs" that called out to employees at Rich's in Atlanta, calling the sounds, "a cherished part of childhood."

Did we miss the codes used at the store you work at? Leave a comment below letting us in on the secret code.

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