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Guilty Until Proven Innocent
Via Consumerist, a guy goes to Best Buy and bypasses the receipt-checking door guard. Now, there is an argument that prices can remain low because a store is able to guard against theft by this method (even if they do lie to you and tell you it's for your "protection"). Then again, I'm no thief and I resent being treated like one. Here's how this guy dealt with it:

After being convinced that I'm not going to budge from my decision and trekking off to what must've been the end of the earth to retrieve my box, I'm told that these items must be checked out at the counter I'm standing in front of. Before he will even take my credit card, though, I have to fill out my name, address, etc on three different forms which then get laboriously typed into the register. By the time we're through the repeated sales pitch on the extended warranty and the inspection of the contents of my purchases, I'm in what might be considered a hurry to leave.

So when I'm faced with the prospect of standing in a long line at the exit to have yet another person rifle through my property, I dodge the line and head for an unused automatic door, countering an insistent "Sir, can I see your receipt?" with a polite "No, thank you."

I've gotten so used to this trick at Fry's Electronics that I don't really think twice about it. You see, Fry's doesn't trust their underpaid staff manning the cash registers to actually do their jobs right, so they post a door guard to ask people walking away from the registers carrying plastic bags to let them verify that all of the items in the bag were rung up on the receipt.

But this verification step is purely voluntary. Merchants basically have two rights covering people entering and exiting their stores. They can refuse to let you enter the premises and/or to sell you anything, and they can place you under citizens arrest for attempting to leave the premises with any property that you haven't paid for. But the second you hand over the appropriate amount of cash, they lose all rights to the items. They can't legally impair you from leaving the store with your property.

Apparently the employees of my local Best Buy aren't very familiar with annoying pedantic individuals who will choose principals over convenience when walking out with a shopping cart full of expensive home entertainment gear. I manage to get about 5 steps out the door before the door guard catches up to me and grabs my cart, with the "sir" in his "I need to see your receipt, sir" somehow not very complimentary. This is apparently a stalling tactic, as shortly a few more blue-shirted employees make a move to block me from making any more progress toward my car.

I ask, still calm, if I am being detained for shoplifting. This suggestion apparently shocks my captor into regaining some of his senses, and he lets go of my cart. I explain that unless he wishes to do so, he has no right to stop me.

This is clearly baffling to the poor fellow. He suggests again that my receipt simply needs to be checked, struggling to grasp why it is that I won't just be a nice little customer and submit to the store policy. I spend a few moments trying to explain myself, but clearly have too much adrenaline flowing at this point to be particularly erudite. I give up and proceed in the direction of my car.

Shortly a yellow-shirted fellow, who I take to be a managerial-type, again tries to plead a case for the receipt-checking. I ask again if I'm being detained for shoplifting. He says no, but shortly thereafter mentions that he'll need to call the police shortly if I don't offer a receipt. I tell him to please do so, while loading my packages into the car. I suggest that before doing so he take a moment to talk to either the helpful salesperson who rung me up or to compare their inventory against sales receipts, as to avoid looking like an ass to the cops.

As I get in my car to leave, two Best Buy lackeys in a pickup truck decide its a good time to park behind me, blocking my path again. By this time, I've had just enough of this crap and not very politely or discreetly ask them to get out of the way. With only a little hesitation, the yellow-shirt nods in their direction and I'm soon free to leave.

Its been a few hours, but I'm still half expecting a man with a badge and a gun to show up at my door to check my receipt.

Here's Best Buy's response to his story.

UPDATE: My biz-wiz friend, Jackie Danicki, at Engagement Alliance, makes a great point:

The arguments that this is necessary for loss prevention reasons ring completely hollow.

If your loss prevention only covers loss of goods, and not loss of customers, you have much more serious problems than some stolen electronics.

If your employees are not trustworthy, they should not be working for you. Improve your recruitment and employee services.

You should not opt to harass customers as an alternative to robust loss prevention systems (such as prominent tape on big ticket items which have been paid for, or perhaps RFID technology).

If your store policy is to detain and harass, you can either choose to make that explicit or wait for your (former) customers to do it for you.

In any case, there is a better way and you should find or design it. No ifs, ands, or buts.

Posted by aalkon at February 19, 2006 6:01 AM

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» Receipt checks: Best Buy, worst customer retention from Engagement Alliance

Journalist Amy Alkon shares the disturbing experience of a Best Buy customer who refused to be detained by the store's employees so that they could check his receipt.

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Tracked on February 19, 2006 8:12 AM


What a wanker. If you don't like the store's policy then go shop somewhere else. When you make a scene over crap like that it slows down the checkout process for everyone. And have a little courtesy for the store employees who are only trying to do their job and don't need to put up with prissy attitudes.

Posted by: nash at February 19, 2006 10:48 AM

> When you make a scene...

Mixed feelings.

People who read Alkon admire the clarity she brings to exchanges like this, and when reading this post I vowed never to slow my step one pace when leaving such a store again. If their inventory is so precious that they need to search my person, they can fucking well watch me carry the stuff from the checkout counter to the exit: No harm, no foul.

On the other hand, one reason so many excellent dry goods are available at such competitive prices in modern America is that enormous companies can cut corners on just this sort of thing.

Naw, Amy's right. Get into the habit tof knowing exactly which pock you put the receipts in, and plow boldly forward to the parking lot. Grrrr! GRRRRR!

Posted by: Crid at February 19, 2006 11:47 AM

This reminds me of the guy who was arrested at a Best Buy for paying with $2 bills, because none of the staff realized they were legal tender. Best Buy is the McDonald's of electronics.

Posted by: Jim Treacher at February 19, 2006 1:29 PM

If your time is so precious, why don't you shop at Sears Roebuck where the prices are higher and the selection is not as good, but they don't have receipt checkers at the door?

Your "biz-wiz" friend doesn't seem so bright. Most people seem to shop for electronics based on price, not customer service. The receipt checkers are a minor, piddling inconvenience that most reasonable people are willing to put up with in order to save another 10%.

That tape and RFID technology that he suggests can easily be defeated. 20/20 did a segment on shoplifting rings that do just that. The mere fact that they have receipt checkers probably deters a large number of casual shoplifters, like teenage delinquents.

Posted by: nash at February 19, 2006 1:56 PM

> a minor, piddling inconvenience that
> most reasonable people are willing to
> put up with in order to save
> another 10%.

Exactly, we're selling our own souls.

Posted by: Crid at February 19, 2006 2:08 PM

I have trouble understanding the author's point/gripe. Is it because the receipt-check line was so long (compounded with the long service wait he previously endured)? If so, one can simply plan to shop during a less-populated hour. Or does the author resent the rank-and-file employee not being up on the most recent false imprisonment/shopkeeper's privilege case law? An unrealistic expectation, at best. Snobbery at worst. Or is this a crusade against receipt-checks in all its various incarnations? If so, this seems like a particularly worthless windmill at which to tilt.

Posted by: snakeman99 at February 19, 2006 2:50 PM

I agree with Snakeman and others -- if the customer didn't want to show his receipt for legal or moral or other reasons, he should have just said so.

He could have said "Look, I'm in a hurry, and I just filled out three forms and paid with a credit card in my name, and you have no legal right to check my receipt anyway, so would you please just get out of my way so I can continue my Christmas shopping." (Ignoring the fact that this would have taken more time than simply showing the damn receipt.)

They probably would have let him go. They're getting seven dollars an hour, I'm sure they barely give a shit. Those front-door people don't check receipts half the time anyway, and with Christmas coming up I'm sure the store was swamped. I hate the exit-door receipt-checkers as much as anyone else, but I also don't fault people for doing their job. This guy went out of his way to look like he was trying to get away with something, and then complained when the store employees responded accordingly.

I'm all for fighting the increasing infringements on our liberty, but we need to pick our battles a little better than this.

By the way: it's P-R-I-N-C-I-P-L-E.

Posted by: Gary at February 19, 2006 9:05 PM

Perhaps, Gary, you didn't read the story carefully enough. The guy said (and did) the following:

I dodge the line and head for an unused automatic door, countering an insistent "Sir, can I see your receipt?" with a polite "No, thank you."

Not exactly a weaponized, aggressive approach.

And Nash, according to this experience, just to name one, when one is treated like a thief, suddenly customer service seems to matter a great deal. I intially started shopping at Staples because I can get good deals there, but I'm still a customer at Staples because of a guy named Mark who used to work in their copy center and is now one of the managers there.

Jackie's point is that the burden should not be on the customer, and is only on the customer out of laziness, complacency, and lack of innovation by businesses.

Customer service is very, very important to me. Sometimes people working at a place screw up, but what matters a lot is being treated well -- that they at least make the effort.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 19, 2006 10:13 PM

Amy, you exaggerate. Receipt-checking is a minor inconvenience. It's no different than the security lines at the airport. And I bet you'd still shop at Staples just to save a buck regardless of the customer service.

Posted by: nash at February 20, 2006 9:34 AM

The point is, Best Buy is implementing a policy to which they have no legal right. Customers do not have to show their receipts to have them checked against their purchases if they don't want to.

Once you pay for something, it's your property, and no one has any legal right to detain you from exiting a store with your own property. You may consider this trivial. Fair enough. At what point does it become important? At what point do you give up so many of your legal rights that it no longer is trivial to you?

Once you've answered that, you can tell us all what makes you think the rest should all march in lockstep behind your beliefs of just how much of our rights we should give up, before we make an issue out of it?

Posted by: Patrick at February 20, 2006 10:47 AM

Actually, Nash, after Mark left the copy center, they replaced him with people whose heads seemed filled with tuna salad instead of brains, and who didn't seem to care how they put you out by screwing up your orders. It got so bad that I wrote their corporate office a letter telling them I'd go five trafficky miles out of my way to Office Depot if they didn't improve fast.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 20, 2006 12:38 PM

nash writes:

When you make a scene

When did he make a scene? When he was asked to show his receipt, he said no, as is his right. The scene was made by those who sought to detain him when they had no right to do so.

Posted by: Patrick at February 20, 2006 6:31 PM

Amy, my point is that he didn't state his reason. He might have said "thank you", but he still openly refused a security check. Did he really think this act wouldn't be viewed with suspiscion?

Had he spoken to a manager, or even the door person, about his reasons for refusing the security check, perhaps a reasonable compromise might have been reached. Instead, he took an action that could have been construed as threatening, and then had the nerve to be surprised when the store employees reacted to it.

Not that I'm totally siding with Best Buy here. I agree that this procedure is invasive, since the receipt may contain your name, credit card info, and other data you shouldn't have to share with whatever faceless yutz drew front-door duty that day. (Whenever I'm checked, I always fold the receipt so only the list of items purchased is visible.)

The incident also betrays a dangerous lack of training on the part of Best Buy's front door people. They had no clue how to handle the situation, and completely overreacted. Sheesh, what would these clowns have done if he'd really been trying to steal something? From my experience with these door people, it's obvious they just give this assignment to anyone, and assume all customers are going to comply. That's not "loss prevention," it's busywork.

BTW I'm not convinced that this check is illegal. You may have finished paying for the item, and it may technically be "yours." Problem is, you're still on their premises. Businesses have some leeway under the law to set their own policies. If the matter went to court, I'm sure Best Buy could conjure up some argument that their check is legal. I'm also sure that these big chain stores do their due diligence before instituting new procedures.

All in all, both the store and the customer could have handled this better. Hopefully, this episode will at least get major retailers thinking of better ways to handle loss prevention.

Posted by: Gary at February 21, 2006 4:12 PM

> a reasonable compromise might
> have been reached.

Here's one, tested over millenia on every continent: You pay then for stuff, they hand it to you, you walk away unmolested.

I've always been a real wussy about this with the door people, because they're often cute young people of exotic ethnicity who need the minimum-wage job pretty badly. It seems our patient nature is being used against us.

As their customer, you are not responsible for the layout of their stores.. Or for their disinterest in watching you carry your purchases away from the cashier's counter, which would obviate the need for intrusion.

Posted by: Crid at February 21, 2006 8:01 PM

>As their customer, you are not responsible for the layout of their stores.

Perhaps not. But you are responsible for where you shop, and for knowing policies that are associated with purchases you make. If the security process bothers you that much, you should simply take your business to an electronics store that doesn't employ it.

Posted by: Gary at February 21, 2006 9:56 PM

Gary, that's true and it's probably what most folks are going to do. But it would a shame if American retail started to offer two tiers of customer service: Beverly Hills, where you're treated like an adult, and Valley-style, where you empty your pockets at the door.

Posted by: Crid at February 21, 2006 10:41 PM

I'm with Crid on his comment above - that if I pay for stuff, I should be able to walk away unmolested. Yet, I, too, have been a wussy about this for the same reason -- and it's why I not just tip but overtip at Starbucks. Most of the people working there, at least at the ones I go to, are in school, or on their way someplace, and not funded by rich parents. That's a rough road, these days, especially. My .50 cents on top of the price of my black coffee is not really a big deal, but if a lot of people do that, maybe they get where they're going a little faster. I am a hardass about justice, and the "right thing" -- ie, you should be able to just march out -- but sometimes humanity gets in the way and I just show my receipt.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 22, 2006 5:38 AM

Regarding what Gary says, I don't care what their policy is - and unless it's posted on the door as a condition of leaving, screw them. Moreover, I have, a number of times, not shopped at a place after they've informed me I couldn't come in unless they held onto the bag I was bringing in. Nuh-uh. Buh-bye!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 22, 2006 5:40 AM

I got here too late to make the salient points raised by Amy, Crid, and Patrick. But I cannot be the only one who is more than mildly disturbed to hear all of these cries of "Just fall in line and do as you're told!" and "What's the big deal?" Why the eagerness to bow to authority (real or imagined)?

Posted by: Jackie Danicki at February 22, 2006 10:26 AM

As with other stuff I speak out about, sometimes the cost of speaking out and/or doing the fair thing (leaving, unimpeded) with your purchases, is too high on a particular occasion. For example, there's a certain measure of stress involved in speaking out when somebody's sitting next to you shouting into a phone. Sometimes, I have to keep my mouth shut because I can't afford the toxic'y stress'y feeling that is likely to come from getting into a (righteous) argument with a boor.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 22, 2006 11:52 AM

OH, I totally understand that - otherwise, I'd be giving daily earaches to all of the rude people I encounter. What I don't understand is an insistence that others step into line and keep their mouths shut in the face of actions which they find objectionable.

Posted by: Jackie Danicki at February 22, 2006 4:40 PM

I'm with you there. On all the people indignant that it doesn't work for other people to step in line.

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