Main | Monday, April 24, 2006

May I See Your Receipt?

Well, it's Monday and I'm feeling extra curmudgeonly.

I've have a long-standing policy of refusing to shop in stores that make me check my bag before I can shop. I don't like being treated like a thief and I've always felt that stores need to address their shoplifting problems without inconveniencing every single one of their customers. In New York, I rarely have to deal with this annoyance, as most of the shops are too busy to be able to run a bag check on every customer. There are a couple of shops with bag check policies that I do patronize, such as Strand Books, because of their unique selections.

What the retail industry calls shrinkage, a broad term encompassing all kinds of inventory loss situations, is a very vexing problem, this I can understand. I can understand security cameras, store detectives, electronic theft tags. But I cannot stomach one particular tactic the retail industry uses to control shrinkage, the demand to see your receipt before you depart the store.

Last week, at Best Buy on Fifth Avenue, I selected a zippered CD case and headed for the checkout. I waited in a short line of three or four people and at the register, my cashier appeared to be standing by for the manager to close out her drawer. When I put my purchase on her counter, she wailed, "Why I got to wait on him?" The manager waved me off and said, "Sorry, I'm 'bout to close her out." And I was directed to get back in the other line, now about ten people long. Grrrr. I waited in line again and seethed.

Leaving the store, I encountered another long line, this time the customers were being required to open their Best Buy bags and present their receipt, so that the security guards could ensure you were really walking out with what you paid for. And this really ticked me off, because the receipt checking is primarily done to prevent employee theft, not shoplifting. Employeee steal much more inventory than is shoplifted by customers, often working with a partner who poses as a customer. A 40gig iPod goes into the bag, but the cashier rings up a far cheaper item.

Already pissed from the poor experience at the register, I decided to just sail past the line of customers waiting to show their receipts, thinking, "I paid. I'm done with you people." Well, don't you know that their security guard followed me outside the store and made me show him my receipt, right there on Fifth Avenue. And then the guy put his initials on my receipt. I said, "Why are you putting your initials on this? When I get home, it's just going into the trash" He said, "If you decide to do a return, your receipt must be signed." Just like digitial rights management software punishes the few paying customers that are still buying music, these intrusive shrinkage control policies punish the honest customer. There's got to be a better way.

According to the 2001 National Retail Theft Survey Report, Where Inventory Shrinkage Happens:

-Employee Theft 46%
-Shoplifting 30.6%
-Administrative Error 17.6%
-Vendor Fraud 5.8%

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