I was in a hurry, and I swear crap like this only happens when I’m in a hurry. It was Friday afternoon and I was headed to a buddy’s cabin for the weekend. Unsure of the bed situation and knowing that two nights on the floor and a weekend of drinking would likely kill me, I decided to pick up an air mattress.
To save time, I bought the mattress online and opted for in-store pickup. According to Walmart’s website, in-store pickup was quick and hassle free! In reality, in-store pickup was a goddamn nightmare.
I entered the store and followed the signs to the pickup area. Easy enough. However, when I approached the counter, nobody was there. I waited a few minutes. Still, no one. I walked to one of the cashiers standing in front of her lane.
Me: “Would you mind helping me out in in-store pickup?”
Darla: “Only the in-store pickup cashier can do that.”
Me: “Well she seems to be missing. Any idea as to her whereabouts?”
Darla: “She might be finishing her cigarette.”
I returned to the pickup counter and there was the missing cashier.
“How can I help you?” she asked (she had indeed been finishing her cigarette).
She handed me the mattress, and I threw it in a cart. I put the receipt in my pocket and headed into the store for some snacks.
I went through the self checkout, bagged my snacks and, ready to start the weekend, headed for the door — I made it 3 steps before being stopped by a greeter.
“Sir, I’ll need your receipt.”
Annoyed but compliant, I handed it over. The greeter rummaged through my snack bag marking the receipt as she went.
Anticipating the inevitable question as to why this giant, unbagged air mattress wasn’t on the receipt, I began to pull my in-store pickup receipt from my pocket before she interrupted me.
“Alright, sir, have a good night.”
And it is here where I transitioned from being slightly annoyed to very angry. Because while the greeter successfully inventoried $8 worth of trail mix and Red Vines, she missed the giant $70 mattress sitting unbagged in the front of the cart. And if she missed the mattress, then she wasn’t doing her job. And if she’s not doing her job, then why in the hell are we standing here?
I began to think long and hard about the situation:
Is this even legal? On one hand, she’s an employee. But on the other hand, doesn’t the transfer of goods occur upon purchase? Like aren’t these my items now? Isn’t she technically just stopping me to rummage through my personal belongings? What are her rights? What are Walmart’s rights? Most importantly, what are my rights?
Answers to those important questions and more right now:
The Rights Of A Retailer: Shopkeeper’s Privilege
Shopkeeper’s Privilege is a common law designed to protect retailers from theft. It allows retailers to detain suspected shoplifters. The detainment must occur on store property and the merchant can only hold the suspect for a reasonable amount of time, i.e., until the police arrive.
Can A Retailer Use Shopkeeper’s Privilege To Stop Anyone?
No. The key here is Shopkeeper’s Privilege only applies to suspected shoplifters, so the merchant must have probable cause that the customer has shoplifted. What does probable cause look like?
Although shoplifting laws vary by state, merchants can look for the following steps to establish probable cause:
- You must see the shoplifter approach your merchandise.
- You must see the shoplifter select your merchandise.
- You must see the shoplifter conceal your merchandise.
- You must maintain continuous observation of the shoplifter.
- You must see the shoplifter fail to pay for the merchandise.
- You must approach the shoplifter outside of the store but on store grounds.
The Rights Of The Consumer
Shopkeeper’s Privilege is designed to protect retailers from shoplifting. But what if you’re not a shoplifter?
In the event of a receipt check, Walmart has not seen you conceal and fail to pay for merchandise, because you have not stolen anything. You are innocent of everything other than being randomly selected for a receipt check. So what does this mean for you, the paying customer, when a friendly face in a yellow vest asks for your receipt?
Well, you can do what most of us do and comply, thereby subjecting yourself to a voluntary search. But you can also say “no.” You can say “no thanks.” Hell, you can even say “hell no.”
Receipt checks are voluntary and if you’re not in the mood for one, it’s within your rights to be on your merry way.
What If You’re Prevented From Leaving?: False Imprisonment
If you decline the receipt check and the employee detains you or in any way prevents you from leaving the store, the retailer can be held liable for false imprisonment. False imprisonment is the illegal confinement of an individual against his or her will and is both a civil violation and a crime.
Is This The Case At All Retail Stores?
Some club stores like Costco list receipt checks as a condition of membership within its membership agreement. Refusing to show your receipt at a club store could be terms for membership termination.
Conclusion: Should You Show Your Receipt?
Probably. Listen, is it worth shitting all over a 75 year old retiree making minimum wage just so you can exercise your rights as an American? And even when you’re in a hurry, it’s not like it takes more than 5 seconds, especially when the greeter’s doing a half-assed job.
Additionally, in many cases, employees — who obviously are short on proper training — have attempted to detain customers for refusing to show their receipts. Getting confrontational with a Walmart greeter is not a good look, regardless of who’s right and who’s wrong. And if you are unlawfully detained, then what are you gonna do? Start a legal battle with one of the biggest corporations on the planet?
If you really want to take a stand, then pay a few extra dollars to shop somewhere other than Walmart. I hear Target’s in-store pickup is top notch.
Robbins, Ira P., Vilifying the Vigilante: A Narrowed Scope of Citizen’s Arrest (June 16, 2016). Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy, Vol. 25, No. 3, 2016; American University, WCL Research Paper No. 2016-24. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2796715
Victoria S. Salzmann, Big-Box Bullies Bust Benign Buyer Behavior: Wal-Mart, Get Your Hands Off My Receipt!, 4 Fla. A&M U. L. Rev. (2009).
Available at: http://commons.law.famu.edu/famulawreview/vol4/iss1/2