Best Buy Receipt Check: Epilogue

Originally I had written up my experience at Best Buy to share with friends but was urged by several to forward a copy of this to Best Buy. So I did:

Date: Tue, 21 Dec 1999 02:12:18 -0800 (PST) From: Aaron Hopkins To:,,, Subject: Best Buy Receipt Check A story about my experience at Best Buy today. This isn't a necessarily a complaint, I was just hoping to get one of you to forward this to top-level management in your company. --- [Copy of story deleted] Aaron Hopkins Chief Technical Officer Cyberverse, Inc.
And was pleased to hear that my request wasn't ignored:
Date: Tue, 21 Dec 1999 08:46:24 -0600 From: "Williams, Marilyn" <> To: Aaron Hopkins Subject: RE: Best Buy Receipt Check On behalf of Best Buy, I apologize for the unfortunate experience you had at one of our stores. And thank you for taking the time to write of your concern. As you requested, I will be forwarding your message to management for their review. Marilyn Williams Investor Relations Phone: (612) 947-2621 Fax: (612) 430-4181
I found their longer response somewhat lacking, though:
Date: Tue, 21 Dec 1999 12:33:32 -0600 From: " Inbox" <crbestbuy.comInbox@BestBuy.Com> To: Aaron Hopkins Subject: Reply to Mr. Hopkins' 12/21/99 email Mr. Hopkins: Thank you for investing the time and effort to contact Best Buy corporate headquarters. I was sorry to hear the level of service you received from our store failed to meet your expectations. I can certainly understand your frustration. Best Buy strives to provide courteous and accommodating service for every customer. Whether it is our service at the point of purchase or our post sale service, our company has a constant commitment to ensuring our customers' Best Buy experience is an enjoyable one. However, unfortunate incidents like yours may sometimes occur that do not always reflect these positive intentions. Best Buy does not condone or tolerate behavior on the part of its employees that creates an intimidating, hostile or threatening environment. However, as I'm sure you are aware, loss prevention is a concern of every major retailer. Best Buy has implemented a policy of verifying purchases by checking receipts. I assure you however that this policy is applied in an impartial manner and is not meant to cast aspersions on any individual Best Buy customer. Nevertheless, please accept my apologies if loss prevention personnel were less than professional in observing this policy during your recent visit to our store. Please be assured that Best Buy is working together on all levels of the company to evaluate and re-define our definitions of good customer service. I trust your feedback will enable us to enhance overall customer satisfaction in the future. I would like to offer an apology on behalf of Best Buy for the inconvenience and frustration you have experienced as a result of your concern. Hopefully the issues detailed in your message will not change your opinion of our company as a whole. We certainly do appreciate your patronage and would welcome the opportunity to serve you again in the very near future. Arturo Sanchez Consumer Relations Internet Correspondence Best Buy Corporate Headquarters
This person addressed my emotions without actually touching on any of the issues that I raised. I didn't want to be soothed condescendingly.

In the year after I put this story up, I'd received a few dozen pieces of e-mail, either congratulating me for standing up for myself or offering their own stories of difficult shopping experiences at Best Buy.

But I finally got an interesting answer from a Best Buy employee. As he was speaking for himself, I removed his identifying information. It is not my intention to get him in trouble for posting this, though I think it deserves to be read by more people than just me.

Date: Tue, 23 Jan 2001 12:01:47 -0600 From: [Name deleted] To: Aaron Hopkins Subject: from a lackey I got a copy of your story the other day at work, and just read the Best Buy response, which seemed a bit lacking as you said. It addressed your feelings without touching on the issues. I'll try to do that for you. First off, I scanned the UCC and found nothing specifically relating to a merchant's right, or lack thereof, to verify a purchase. Perhaps you are more familiar with the Code than I, and know of the specific articles and parts. If so, please let me know. My hunch is that Best Buy has a bunch of highly paid lawyers who are familiar with the Code, and they probably assured our legal safety here. That said, Best Buy's policy on receipt verification is basically this: check large box stock items, such as computers, appliances, furniture, etc...Any merchandise in bags is free to go. If you want to avoid the guy at the door at Best Buy, ask that your items be bagged. I know that's not the ideal answer, but it will get you out the door. In dealing with the larger issue of why we verify receipts, I will ask a question: Have you ever worked retail sales? How long ago? The unpleasant reality facing retailers today is that "the customer" will lie, cheat, and steal at the slightest opportunity. They will invent fairy tales in attempts to get lower prices, and if you have the gall to debate their logic, they will insult, threaten, and even assault you. This Christmas we had a customer, a 39 year old, 6-2 200lb man, grab a 16 year old slip of a female cashier by the front of her shirt, pull her across the counter to his face, and scream at her because she would not honor an ad price that had been out of effect for two weeks. I personally had a customer, an intelligent, middle-aged man, tell me that a sign I had made ($9.99 after $5.00 mail-in-rebate) was misleading. I could go on, but I won't. Simply put, that is "the customer". All the old sayings about "the customer being the reason we're here", etc...don't apply as much as you might like them to. The reality is that customers don't come to Best Buy because they want to do their part to keep us in business. They want to buy a computer and they come to Best Buy because we have a lower price than Circuit City. That may be simplifying things a bit, but it illustrates the fact that "the customer" will put up with a lot to save 10% How else do you explain the continued existence of Kmart? It is because of these facts that , while we try to serve the customer, we must take steps to protect ourselves from "the customer" It is distasteful to be sure, but if we didn't do it one of two things would happen: we would have to raise prices to compensate or we would soon go out of business. Kmart doesn't protect itself the way Best Buy does and each store loses about 5% of its sales to theft and waste. At my Best Buy a similar level of inefficiency would be about $5,000,000 in loss. As it is, we'll lose about $120,000. I'm sure there was an uproar when stores first began to run personal checks through the various time consuming verification systems, but people soon grasped the truth that other people write bad checks and stores had a reasonable right to protect themselves from that. Receipt verification follows a similar logic. The attitude of "How dare they? Do I look like a thief" comes my way in a lot of the people I check off, and I sense a bit of that in you. Frankly, it's a natural reaction. But, just as we cannot tell a bogus check writer by looks, we cannot differentiate shoplifters either. I'll finish with a few random statements. First, the act of parking behind you could be considered detainment, since it prevented you from leaving the premises by your own choosing. In addition, it was a violation of Best Buy's policy of not "chasing" even known shoplifters into the parking lot. As far as calling the police if you didn't produce a receipt, that's complete BS, and next time they threaten that call their bluff. That WOULD constitute detainment. There's a tort in there, although I'd be hard pressed to give you the legal description. I hope you pursue it, because these people's actions reflect poorly on me and my colleagues. Second, as far as your wait in the store, I could give you the facts about 4 days before Christmas and a strong labor market, but I imagine you don't want to hear that any more than the customers at my store did. All you and they know is that we are intentionally wasting your valuable time, and you're more important than all the other customers anyway. Third, your repeated allusions to a believed diminished mental capacity of Best Buy employees ("clearly baffling to the poor fellow", "Best Buy lackeys") are erroneous, insulting, and probably the reason you didn't get the desired response from Best But corporate. Most employees are college students or graduates, and I assure you that there are as many employees at your store who are of greater intelligence than you as are of lesser. You would do well to remember that fact in future shopping endeavors. Finally, you will probably be surprised to hear that receipt verification saves customers far more money that it does Best Buy. Ask the customer who yesterday almost drove home two hours without $1100.00 in computer equipment because he didn't know that the cashier had divided his large purchase into two carts. Or the customer a few weeks ago who bought a DVD player but was charged for two. Nevermind the cashier, but how do you not notice when your $200 item totals out the $450? Receipt verification is in place to ensure that the customer gets exactly what they paid for, nothing more and nothing less. I don't expect that any of my efforts will ease your righteous indignation. These days that seems to be and end unto itself. I only hope that I've given you some insight into why the shopping experience at all stores had declined over the past few years. I also must put in the I don't speak for Best Buy, including my citations and descriptions of Company policies. [Signature and store # deleted]
The writer takes offense to my derogatory remarks about the Best Buy employees I encountered. I find this strange, as he then suggests that I take legal action against them because they reflect poorly on him. They, in fact, were acting stupidly and attempting to intimidate me, and they did fail to understand my explanation at the time. My choice of words still seems correct.

As for the lack of a mention of purchase verification in the Uniform Commercial Code, he is correct. Though I am certainly not a lawyer and have not retained one to research relevant statutes and case law for me, it is my belief that an item that I purchase becomes my property and therefore is mine to do with as I please as soon as I would be subjected to the store's return policy for it. This is the case when the cash register closes or the credit card transaction completes.

If this is true, then the only method available to legally prevent me from moving as I choose out of the store would be to detain me for shoplifting. I would've welcomed this, actually, as it would've been fun to sue Best Buy for false arrest.

In order to insulate themselves from unfortunate civil suits such as this, many merchants have adopted six rules for their security personnel that guarantee having "probable cause":

An employee failing to meet any one of these criteria is supposed to let the suspect go. A door guard will never meet these criteria, and therefore will never actually accuse anyone of shoplifting just for not letting him look through their belongings. He's there to create duress, giving the impression that you are not free to leave unless you let him search you.

I completely understand why a merchant would be interested in searching everyone leaving the store. It makes great financial sense. I just don't happen to let them, and they can't do much about it. As I am not particularly price sensitive, I prefer to pay slightly more and not be intimidated every time I shop. Thus I choose to not return to stores that are aggressively enforcing this particular policy.

I've only had a few bad experiences in the years I've been ignoring door guards, and I think the time I've saved in not standing in line again to leave the stores has more than made up for them.

Date: Sun, 8 Dec 2002 17:19:19 -0600 From: Emily Spurrier To: Aaron Hopkins Subject: a response from someone at corporate level. Dear Aaron: I work within the Consumer Relations department that had originally written you 3 years ago. As a matter of fact, I was working in that department when Mr. Sanchez replied to you and I know Mr. Sanchez personally. I understand that his reply sounds 'canned' and perhaps I can shed some light on why bags are checked when personnel leave the store premises. Please bear in mind that it is not discriminatory nor is it always random however. You will many times see grocery stores that will put 'tape' on a product that has already been checked out and paid for when the item cannot be bagged or cannot fit in a bag. Best Buy does not have this system and in order to verify the purchase, the Loss Prevention specialist MUST check the receipt to verify that the item has been paid for. If we were to NOT check the receipts what do you think that would invite? How would we control situations where people have this open option to leave the store with a high-ticket item and not pay for it? No wonder KMart has closed so many stores now. Refer to the other employee's email. Your television had no identifying mark on it to assure our loss prevention employees that the item had been paid for. That's all their checking and it's not an invasion of privacy, legally. Not allowing a loss prevention employee to verify this only sends up a red flag. However, I agree that the store employees were wrong by what you described by chasing you and blocking you. I believe they should have explained why they needed to view the receipt and assure you that it's not an accusation.. only a verification. I believe anyone who's worked in retail can at least understand that. Emily S.

If I were to walk up to you on the street and ask to see the cell phone you were carrying, this may be a little strange but is not illegal. Giving you the impression that I wasn't going to let you leave until you showed it to me might be illegal. Preventing you from leaving definitely would be illegal, unless perhaps I was accusing you of stealing it from me.

Similarly, a Best Buy employee asking to see an item I am carrying is not illegal. Suggesting that they might not let me leave until I show it to them might be illegal. Physically preventing me from leaving the store would definitely be illegal, unless they were choosing to accuse me right then of a crime to hold me under citizen's arrest.

Merchants have no special privilege to search every customer who walks out the door, as far as I and the lawyers who have responded to my story have been able to find. The process is completely voluntary. As such, Best Buy's loss prevention personnel are free to ask me to show my receipt, and I am free to refuse. Which is exactly what I did.

The practice of checking receipts is relatively new. People have been interacting with each other in markets for centuries without it. However, I'm not even suggesting that the practice of checking receipts be stopped. I was just trying to recommend that loss prevention personnel receive better training as to what exactly the limitations of their rights are; to avoid legal exposure, they need to let non-complying customers exit freely unless they are prepared to accuse them of a crime.

I'm not the only person in the US who doesn't enjoy being treated like a criminal and searched every time I go shopping. I'm also not the only person aware that the checking of receipts is voluntary or who would be interested in seeing what a court thinks of the false arrest involved in mandatory receipt checks.

Certainly grabbing my cart, surrounding me with a half-dozen guys, and parking a car behind mine to were all working on giving me the impression that I was not free to leave until I submitted to the store policy. And at least one lawyer has suggested that the line for false-arrest was crossed in this case.

Date: Mon, 5 Jan 2004 00:00:44 -0800 From: David Huang To: Aaron Hopkins Subject: Best Buy Aaron, Thanks for sharing your story of Best Buy door nazis. I was also a victim of this today, the Best Buy security refuse to let me leave the store unless I showed him my receipt and PHYSICALLY BLOCKED ME FROM LEAVING. Told him I did not have to present a receipt and asked for a manager... showed the manager my police ID... and told him that the next time anyone does that, they'll be in handcuffs for violation of California Penal Code section 236, False Imprisonment. I recommend all your readers do the same. They have no legal right to force you to show a receipt. In retrospect, I should of called the police and said that I was being held against my will... and that I wanted the security guard to be arrested. I smell a class action soon....

I'd participate in a lawsuit if it comes to that, but my hope is that a successful suit isn't the only way to get security staff familiar with the idea that they have no legal right to search their customers. By spreading the word that it is okay to politely refuse to be searched when exiting stores, I stand a chance of not being the first person to do so when I visit a new store.

My assumption is that the security guards don't understand that they can't force their customers to submit to a search because they've never dealt with it before. If they ran into at least once per week, they might have a very different attitude.

-- Aaron Hopkins