Receipt check implies we’re crooks

By Corey Friedman

We’ve wandered the vast aisles forlornly, darting from frozen foods to health and beauty to electronics to cleaning supplies. Overhead, rows of fluorescent lights bathe the hulking superstore in a pale yellow glow.

We wait in human gridlock for our turn at the cash register, advancing inch by interminable inch. The cashier scans our purchases, fills our shopping bags and takes our money. The transaction finally over, we push our carts to the electric exit doors. The crystalline sky appears just ahead. At long last, sweet freedom!

Then, the store greeter’s sharp voice jolts us back to the maze of vinyl tile and white shelves.

“Can I see your receipt?”

Most of us obligingly dig the long strip of paper from our pockets and stand sheepishly while the man or woman scrutinizes the record of a purchase that happened less than a minute ago. What few of us fully realize is the indignity of this all-too-common practice.

We were just accused of stealing.

Sure, the greeter may be a kindly senior citizen with creases in his forehead, but the receipt check carries an undeniable implication: Prove that you paid, because you’re a criminal suspect.

It’s a sluggard’s approach to loss prevention. Don’t train employees to observe and report theft, just accost nearly every customer at the door. Set a colossal dragnet that will catch a handful of scofflaws and inconvenience honest customers by the thousands.

We have nothing to hide. We wouldn’t steal so much as a 30-cent pack of gum from the 100,000-item store. We have integrity; and that’s exactly why we shouldn’t show our receipts.

We shouldn’t show our receipts because, first, we don’t have to. They can ask, and we can say no. There is no law that compels us to comply. Store policy? Well, that applies to the workers. We’re not on the clock, and we certainly didn’t agree to participate in these silly checkpoints.

If you’re told you can’t leave until you show your receipt, it’s the store employee – not you – who is breaking the law. In North Carolina, merchants need probable cause to believe you’ve stolen something in order to detain you, according to N.C. General Statute 14-72(c). Security experts interpret that to mean someone must physically see you take an item and attempt to leave the store without paying.

The instant someone prevents you from leaving for simply refusing to show your receipt, you’re being detained illegaly and should call the police. You can also take civil action against the store for false imprisonment.

This applies to anyone who hassles you at the door — a greeter, a manager, and yes, a security guard. These counterfeit cops are not sworn law enforcement officers. Their badges give them about as much legal authority as the “Junior Deputy” stickers my local sheriff’s office handed out in elementary school. Their job is to observe and report, not to obstruct and arrest. If anything, they should be more aware of the legal requirements for detention than the average employee.

Some door sentries think there are exceptions. If items are unbagged, doesn’t that give them the right to demand proof of purchase?

Absolutely not – and especially if a large unbagged item’s in a cart surrounded by shopping bags. What reasonable person would assume you bought everything else in your cart and sneaked the large item through the checkout line without paying?

Even if you set off the electronic door alarm and a squawking voice commands you to halt, you’re not duty-bound to stop for a bag search.

Consumer columnist David Pelfrey of the Birmingham, Ala. City Paper articulates, “If you possess an ounce of personal pride or perhaps two ounces of fortitude, then the 100 percent correct move is to proceed immediately out the door. Why? There are many reasons, chief among them being that rational adults should not instantly obey mechanical voices (unless that voice instructs us to exit a burning aircraft).”

Two Wal-Mart greeters and one woman whose grandmother is a Wal-Mart greeter said asking folks to prove they paid for the contents of their brimming carts is just part of the job description. And I can sympathize. That’s why we should respond to the inevitable, “Can I see your receipt?” with a kind wave and a simple “No, thank you.”

There’s no good reason to comply with disagreeable requests out of empathy for the person whose job it is to ask. Politely declining such inquisitions — stamping out cart searches with a smile — does no harm to the employees and sends a powerful message to management: We’ve had enough.

We shouldn’t show our receipts because, finally, the practice of exit checks is both insulting and demeaning. It needs to be stopped, and with enough customer backlash, retailers will eventually get the message.

A new Web site called receiptpolice.com asks readers to share their experiences with overzealous receipt checkers. A companion site, standuptowalmart.com, has Wal-Mart in its crosshairs for the door checks that are becoming commonplace there.

We shouldn’t show our receipts. We’re honest people – paying customers – and treating us all like criminal suspects is bad business.

This essay was adapted from the author’s column in The Gaston Gazette.

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0 Responses to Receipt check implies we’re crooks

  1. Richard C. Evey

    Get with the program. Since the government took down the World Trade center and other places, the Patroit act plus was passed and we are all guilty until we can prove we are innocent. I was walking out of Wal Mart and I had the receipt in my hand and as I walked passed the person at the door I waved the receipt and said that I paid for everything. The person look at me very unhappy, I took away his chance to bully me. .

  2. Pingback: Wal-Mart: Receipt check is voluntary «

  3. Pingback: Receipt check causes scuffle, arrest «

  4. Distressed Retail Worker

    Here’s an idea: Show the receipt already. Despite what most people seem to think, not everyone that works in retail is stupid, and we are not all out to get you. Being a cashier, I have made mistakes that have both over AND undercharged my customers. I always apologize. However, not all cashiers catch these types of mistakes, and THAT is what these receipt checks are all about. If a cashier charged you twice for something, you would want to know about it, right? On the other hand, people do shoplift sometimes, and what is the result? Higher prices. A few seconds of your time is well worth lower prices for everyone. By your logic, since everyone getting on a flight is screened by TSA, then TSA must be assuming that everyone is attempting to carry a bomb on board the plane. We are not assuming that you are stealing, we are trying to: a. Catch cashier mistakes and b. Prevent shoplifting to keep YOUR prices down. Maybe sometimes we go overboard, but please, making a huge stink about it, screaming at us, is not going to make it go away.

    • ” Being a cashier, I have made mistakes that have both over AND undercharged my customers. I always apologize. However, not all cashiers catch these types of mistakes, and THAT is what these receipt checks are all about.”

      Since when has any receipt checker actually verified all the items in a cart/bag and/or there prices? You can’t tell me they have the prices on sale or not of every item that Wal-mart carries memorized.

    • Missy

      The problem it that I don’t want to be inconvenienced when I have just spent money at a store. I don’t care if the store has theft problems. I do not work there, I do not have any responsibility to help them with their theft issues. Asking for a receipt in my opinion is telling me that the store suspects ME of stealing. That’s insulting, and doubly so because I just gave them my business and they repay me by calling me a thief? Not to mention that receipt checking does not stop thieves. My Brother works at Walmart and he tells me that people simply come back into the store with a receipt several times and just walk out with it, showing the door greeter the receipt for their origional purchas then RETURN those items the next day for a full refund. The problem isn’t people like me who refuse to give up our 4th amendment rights to a store policy that is at the very least ineffective, it is the stores that do not effectively prevent theft BEFORE you get to the door. If they had more people watching the camera’s and patrolling the isles looking for actual criminals then they wouldn’t need to treat ME, a law abiding citizen, like a common criminal every time I buy something at their store.

    • Dave

      And actually… yes… TSA *does* assume that *everyone* is attempting to carry a bomb on board the plane. That’s the point to their searches.

      That’s a whole ‘nother rat hole to get into, however…

  5. Gordon

    Distressed retail worker, this is bigger then an inconvenience for you. I sympathize for you, however, I don’t want to show some old lady that I am buying my wife warming lotions, a nighty, flowers, and a pack of smokes. Maybe I am a leader at my church. Its embarrassing enough that I had to wait for the one guy in sporting goods to ring me up so I don’t feel weird. But more over its a violation of our law. I could careless about being under or over charged something. I just want to buy what I want, and leave. ESPECIALLY if I am buying the aforementioned items. The last thing I want is for Grand ma Moses to give me a wink as I fall inside myself embarrassed.

    Also I don’t think anyone screamed here. We are just saying we know our rights, and we encourage others to use them. Many people, including myself didn’t think about how I am not obligated to let Sam Walton clean his butt with the Constitution. So I will politely say “no thanks, have a good night”.

  6. Black Stream

    Distressed Retail Worker
    January 7, 2009 at 1:32 am
    Here’s an idea: Show the receipt already. Despite what most people seem to think, not everyone that works in retail is stupid, and we are not all out to get you. Being a cashier, I have made mistakes that have both over AND undercharged my customers. I always apologize. However, not all cashiers catch these types of mistakes, and THAT is what these receipt checks are all about. If a cashier charged you twice for something, you would want to know about it, right? On the other hand, people do shoplift sometimes, and what is the result? Higher prices. A few seconds of your time is well worth lower prices for everyone. By your logic, since everyone getting on a flight is screened by TSA, then TSA must be assuming that everyone is attempting to carry a bomb on board the plane. We are not assuming that you are stealing, we are trying to: a. Catch cashier mistakes and b. Prevent shoplifting to keep YOUR prices down. Maybe sometimes we go overboard, but please, making a huge stink about it, screaming at us, is not going to make it go away.

    That would be a good argument if they actually checked each itme. They just gaze over the receipt and the purchases. The time to catch a checkout mistake is at the register, not the door. And yes, we can make this practice go away!

  7. My advise: Have a small recorder in your front pocket, recording every word said. Tell the checker no ! You have no right to search me or my property. Ask the checker if you are under arrest? Are you detaining me against my will. If they answer yes! Then do not say another word. Use your cell phone, call 911 and report that you have been kidnaped, held against your will. When the police get there, don’t argue with them. Show the recorder and play back what was said. And if the police say that your own private property and they have the right to search your bags, politely tell him that by opening the store to the paying public, that nulls that right by the store owner. If the police still insist, ask him if your under arrest. If not then your free to go. Be prepared to go to jail for your rights, there that important to me!

  8. cleaning supplies should be environment friendly too, choose cleaning supplies which does not harm the environment,.-

  9. Brian

    Had my helmet stolen off my motorcycle yesterday and went to wal-mart to get a new one before class started and the rain came pouring down. 40 feet separated cashier 15 and the door where I was asked to see my receipt. She watched me unzip a leather jacket and a rain jacket to put my wallet and receipt into my jacket pocket and she still asks to see my receipt. I tell her “nah, I’m good.” And she tries to block me with her arm and gets aggressive with me. She grabs her superior and they chase me into the parking lot where I casually get on my motorcycle while she hurls insults at me, including calling me a bitch. I respond with “Yeah we got a white male, 180 pounds who is in too much of a hurry to dig his receipt out of his pocket but should be treated like a criminal because I make so little money at my job and start my shift with corporate cheerleader chants.” When I get to my college an officer sees me ride up into the parking lot and rides up to me and asks out the window “what happened back there” and I quickly told him the story and he laughs and I head into the building just as the rain comes pouring down. “W A L – M A R T What’s that spell?!?!?!? I don’t know, I only have a GED.

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