Advertisement

Shoppers irate at retailers who check bags, receipts at exit. Do customers have a right to refuse?

As if grocery shopping in Canada wasn't annoying enough Redditors are now highlighting another nuisance to the experience: security and receipt checkers.

Shoppers have their receipts and trolleys checked by an employee as they exit from a Costco store in Alhambra, California, on August 19, 2019. - American consumers spent far more than expected in July, as retail sales jumped on strong online purchases, according to government data released on August 15, 2019. The report gave a reassuring picture of the US consumer, a bedrock that has enabled the US economy to outperform other leading economies even as American manufacturing has weakened. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP)
Shoppers have their receipts and trolleys checked by an employee (R) as they exit from a Costco store in Alhambra, California, on August 19, 2019. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP)

As if grocery shopping in Canada wasn't annoying enough for customers — from high prices to the inconvenience — Redditors are now highlighting another nuisance to the experience: security and receipt checkers.

A Halifax Redditor asked users about this in a post titled: "Do you let store staff check your bags and receipts?" It fetched almost 300 comments.

"Aside from a store like Costco, where you agree to receipt checks as part of your membership, do you stop and let store staff check your receipt and items?" user Prestigious_King_548 asked. "Do you say "no thank you" and keep walking?"

"Personally, I haven't done anything wrong, so I'm not stopping or subjecting myself to any check. I won't be rude to the retail staff just doing as instructed, but I'm also not playing along."

As receipt checkers before exiting stores appear to have become more common at some retailers, we asked experts what shoppers' rights are to refuse the check.

Why Costco checks your receipt before you leave

Martin Qiu is an associate professor of marketing at Wilfrid Laurier University. He says that for member-based retailers like Costco, receipt checking is part of the membership agreement.

“Customers have to agree to present their receipt for examination upon their exit from the store,” he tells Yahoo News Canada.

On the retailer’s website, it states that receipt checking is implemented “to double-check that the items purchased have been correctly processed by our cashiers” as it’s the “most effective method of maintaining accuracy in inventory control, and it’s also a good way to ensure that ... members have been charged properly for their purchases.”

Shoppers head into a Costco warehouse Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024, in Sheridan, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Shoppers head into a Costco warehouse Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024, in Sheridan, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Customers' rights: Am I allowed to refuse a receipt check or bag check at a store?

For other retailers like Walmart and Loblaws, experts say customers don’t legally have to subject themselves to these checks, especially as retail technology, like facial recognition at kiosks, becomes more advanced and commonplace.

“You’re inevitably going to face issues when you’re replacing humans with machines,” says Alex Nanoff, a spokesperson for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA). “What measures are these companies putting in place in order to resolve or reconcile what limitations they might have as a result of not having humans check out their groceries?”

According to a 2019 blog post by CCLA, “‘shopkeepers privilege’... is exercised after a theft is witnessed, not in anticipation of an imagined crime” and “after witnessing a theft, a shopkeeper can invite the customer to search the bag together with the shopkeeper. But the shopkeeper has no right to search without consent.”

If no theft is witnessed, and the shopkeeper wants to perform a check, it’s essentially a version of “carding,” a controversial police tactic in which a person is stopped, questioned and documented when no specific offence is being investigated.

Daniel Tsai is a lawyer and adjunct business law professor at Toronto Metropolitan University and University of Toronto. He says retailers detaining customers for not showing a receipt could legally qualify as a claim of false imprisonment.

“If you haven’t done anything wrong and they can’t confirm with video cameras or eyewitnesses…and they detain you without consent, that’s false imprisonment,” he says. “It can’t be a hunch or a suspicion.”

You’re inevitably going to face issues when you’re replacing humans with machines.

Canadians react: 'It's a nuisance'

Many in the comments of the Reddit post expressed their disdain for the procedure of receipt and bag checking.

User GibberBabble explained that they decline having receipt checked when shopping at Superstore, because customers are faced with the abundance of security personnel throughout the shopping trip, including “employees hovering over you as you scan your items” at self-checkout.

User Dependent_Reply_8644 wrote: "I just keep walking. It’s a nuisance."

User DamenAJ questioned the entire procedure: "If people have multiple TVs or whatever that's one thing, but groceries? What obvious item are you looking for in the two seconds you checked the receipt? Or are they going to actually look at everything and now it's a lineup to get out of the damn store?"

However, one user could see the incentive for stores to impose these types of checks.

“It’s probably not that effective at actually catching people (from stealing), but I wouldn’t be surprised if it deterred some of the more nervous would-be shoplifters,” resipsaloquitor5 wrote.

Some retailers re-thinking self-checkout lanes

Some Canadian Tire and Walmart stores that had installed self-checkouts, are now ditching them in favour of human cashiers, which in turn could also eliminate the practice of receipt checking. In the UK, grocery chain Booths found that self-checkouts didn’t work with their line of retail, as a result of being “unreliable” and “impersonal”.

“They’re realizing that maybe it doesn’t justify not having staff there,” says Tsai. “Maybe there is something about the shopping experience to have a human being run your groceries through and bag your groceries. There’s a bit of pushback.”