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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