A Wal-Mart manager admitted Tuesday that employees can’t detain a customer for declining a receipt check — even when the security alarm is activated.
Johnny Wilkins, co-manager of the Wal-Mart Supercenter at 3000 E. Franklin Blvd. in Gastonia, N.C., reviewed surveillance video from last Saturday’s attempted illegal detention. A greeter stood in front of my shopping cart to prevent me from leaving the store and at least four employees followed me to my car, surrounded me and harassed me for refusing to show my receipt.
“I’m shocked to see that she [the greeter] grabbed your shopping cart in that manner,” Wilkins told me after watching video of the incident.
About an hour after being illegally prevented from leaving the store, I phoned Wal-Mart and spoke to Tina, an assistant manager. She apologized profusely and said employees are not permitted to physically restrain customers for saying “No, thanks” to the receipt checker.
I requested a signed letter of apology from the store manager, to include an acknowledgement that in North Carolina, merchants cannot detain customers without probable cause. Tina assured me the store manager or a co-manager would contact me Monday.
On Monday morning, I phoned my complaint to Wal-Mart’s customer service hotline. The operator told me my complaint would be escalated to management, and I’d be contacted within a few days.
Wilkins called me at around 5:50 p.m. on Monday and left a voicemail. I was navigating an unfamiliar road on my way back to work and was too befuddled from an afternoon of driving without air conditioning to return the call right away.
I called Wilkins at 7:42 a.m. Tuesday — he and I were both working early shifts — and he said he’d have to review the surveillance tape and call me back in a couple hours.
After hearing nothing all day, I phoned him at 4:11 p.m. He said he had watched the tape and admitted that employees aren’t supposed to restrain customers or confront them in the parking lot for refusing a receipt check.
I asked when I could expect my written apology. Wilkins said the store manager is on vacation and he wasn’t sure he had the authority (he said “jurisdiction,”) to write such a document. “We’ve never had a request like that,” he said.
Wilkins said he’ll talk to his bosses about the apology and get back to me by Thursday. He also mentioned that he still has to interview the employees involved in the Saturday night fracas to find out what happened.
I asked if he could listen to my exchange with the greeter on the surveillance tape. He said he couldn’t tell me whether the store’s cameras record sound.
Tara Stewart, Wal-Mart’s regional communications vice president, e-mailed me Tuesday afternoon to let me know she’d forwarded my complaint to the vice president of North and South Carolina stores.
Overall, I’ve been pleased with Wal-Mart’s responsiveness. But, I insist on getting that written apology and promise that employees at the Gastonia store will be retrained.
When there are signed documents in public hands (and posted on blogs like this one), retailers will be more apt to keep their promises. Fewer customers will be cowed by the guilty-until-proven-innocent tactic of retail receipt checking.
And, I hope, no one will be illegally detained by an overzealous door monitor.
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