Why Do Costco and Sam’s Treat Me Like a Criminal?

John P.

CostcoLately I’ve been getting increasingly more angry whenever I visit either Costco or Sams Club. I buy a LOT of crap at these places and I’ve got the top membership levels, so why is it that they always want to see my receipt before I leave the damn building?

I mean, let’s face it. I just waited in some horrendous line, they don’t even bag your stuff up for you, and then 50 feet from the checkout they want me to stand in another line and then reproduce my receipt to allow some lackey to glance at it, glance at my cart and draw a line on it with a marker? What the hell is up with that!?!

Now, before I went on a rant about this, I did my research. Did you know that when you join Sam’s Club or Costco you agreed to allow them to not only see your receipts, but actually search your purses, bags, or whatever you have on your person? That’s right campers – you consented!

Costco’s Privileges & Conditions of Your Costco Membership

Under section 9.) General Policies:

  • Costco reserves the right to inspect any container, backpack, briefcase, etc., upon entering or leaving the warehouse.
  • To ensure that all members are correctly charged for the merchandise purchased, all receipts and merchandise will be inspected as you leave the warehouse.

Sam’s Club’s Conditions & Privileges of Membership

Under General Policies:

  • Receipts: To ensure you are charged correctly for the merchandise you have selected, you will be requested to show your receipt when exiting.
  • Sam’s Club reserves the right to inspect any container, backpack, briefcase, etc., upon entering or leaving the warehouse and to refuse entry to anyone at our discretion.

Now, the marketing spin that Costco corporate has been putting on the inspections is that “they are saving you money by making sure you are not overcharged on individual items”. HAH! Here is what Jeff Bennion had to say over on the Treemedia forums about that (and I completely agree with him!):

They say that it is to make sure that we are not overcharged. This makes absolutely no sense. Unless Rainman is standing at the door and knows the price of every item in the store and can, at a glance, compare your receipt to his price database in his head, there is no way they can check to see if you were overcharged.

Back Off Nazis!

Before anyone starts giving me some crap like “if you don’t like it, don’t shop there”, let me just remind you – this is America. So piss off if that is your attitude because personally I don’t want to see this sort of thing gain a foothold and wake up one day having to show my papers everywhere I go.

Besides, I agree with Ken Reid’s comments, also on the Treemedia forums:

I find it very strange that the very same citizens who decry the civil right abuses made possible by the Patriot act will happily stand silently among a line of sheeple waiting to be searched.

For those of you that might think I am just being difficult and grouchy, I can tell you that the few of us who have had the backbone to stand up to receipt Nazis are making a difference. Fry’s electronics no longer demands that you present a receipt, they politely ask and when I politely refuse, they stand aside. Wal-Mart does the same.

Legal Grounds

Having said all of that, notice that Sam’s language reads that “…you will be requested to show a receipt….” This is because once you have paid for an item, the ownership has been transferred to YOU! Any attempt to detain you would be a simple case of false arrest, and that would mean a major lawsuit, and probably a large settlement.

In fact, stores are so aware of the legally shaky grounds they are on that all of the large retailers have adopted strict guidelines that store personnel must go through before arresting anyone for shoplifting. Here are Wal-Mart’s and Target’s. Generally speaking employees need to:

  • Observe the actual concealment of an item.
  • Never lose visual contact with the person (to ensure they don’t put the item down).
  • Observe the shoplifter bypass the registers.
  • Apprehend the shoplifter immediately as they exit the store.

I actually stopped and held up the line the other day at Costco and asked the guy checking receipts exactly what he’d do if I refused. He told me, and I quote:

“All I could do is say, ‘Sir! Sir!’ But I can’t chase you into the parking lot or anything”

I was talking to my friend Ian over the weekend and he mentioned an article by Aaron Hopkins in which he described an event at Best Buy whereby he was almost illegally detained for a receipt check, and then subsequently corresponded with Best Buy corporate about the ordeal. One of Aaron’s readers, a police officer, even wrote him to let him know he had a similar experience; however, it ended with the police officer notifying the Best Buy employees that next time they would be arrested “for violation of California Penal Code section 236, False Imprisonment.”

I actually confused that article (which I had not seen) with another recent instance that occurred at Circuit City (which one of my regular readers brought to my attention) that resulted in an arrest and a pending civil lawsuit!

Legal Obligations

I’m not a lawyer. Do some research about your local laws before you go inadvertently breaking them. And if you are young, or poor, don’t fight battles you can’t win! Leave them for someone who can afford bail and legal fees. The best you’d be able to do is break even and whine about it. Let someone with means teach these jokers a lesson, otherwise you’ll end up like this guy asking for legal assistance on the Internet.

Father Dan (not a real minister) says:

Unless you signed a contract (CostCo, Sam’s Club, etc) you do not have to nor should you show your receipt to the door monkeys. Why? Once you have purchased the item it is your property. The bag it is in is your property. To allow an “official” of the store to check your bag and receipt is consenting to a search of your property.

Why? Why are you giving up a civil liberty? You are consenting to a search without probable cause. Sure there are all sorts of excuses the store manager will give you. “We are looking out for employee theft” – Great, I’m not your employee. “We are ensuring you weren’t overcharged” – Bullshit. “We are . . . ” – Lying?

He also adds:

Next time you are exiting a store after purchasing something and the door-monkey asks to see you receipt, smile, be polite, keep walking and say “No Thank You.”

“No Thank You.” What a great phrase! How can you argue with that? Fry’s doesn’t anymore. I regularly walk past the line of carts waiting to get out the door and am not stopped. If I’m the only one exiting and get approached I say “No Thank You” and they smile and let me continue. This wasn’t the way it was a year or two ago though. It’s pretty obvious that the employees have received training on the legality of searching customer’s property.

By the way, thanks to my friend Debbie, we have two good articles on this subject from an actual attorney:

I just hope Michael Flynn stops by and answers my very, very important question down in the comments!

Other Writings On This Subject

I am far from the only person who feels this way. Many, many people are becoming more and more vocal about this abuse of our personal liberty. Here are just a few”

Final Thoughts

Clearly the executives of these companies loathe their customers to subject us to this type of situation. And it costs them business! At this point if I have an option between going to Costco or Sam’s vs. Target or my local grocery store guess who wins! Ding, Ding! That’s right! It ain’t Costco.

As Jeff Herrold said:

However, subjecting customers to TSA inspired inspections of pointlessness is an indignity and annoyance. It’s plainly obvious to both the customer and the poor sap assigned to the duty that they aren’t remotely able to actually match my receipt to what’s in my cart. And when even the Emperor notices he’s naked, it’s time to dump the policy.

Do you think Thomas Jefferson or George Washington would have submitted to this type of inspection? No way in hell. Not even if it was frozen over.

So, next time you are leaving Costco why not insist that they check the prices on every single item in your cart to “ensure you didn’t overpay”, or tell them to step out of the way and let you pass – because, frankly, you shouldn’t be treated like that.


  1. says

    CostCo started getting my business again recently and one thing I noticed was that in the 2-3 years I’ve been absent, somewhere along the line they stopped boxing up my stuff and now just put it directly into the cart =/

    Additionally, Walmart matches prices of any store. They match prices I mention without a receipt either. Much more convenient and they have a much broader selection. I hate that it’s pretty much a China Outlet, but I don’t have enough money to complain and shop at SafeWay :o

  2. says

    I’ve never actually thought about this – the only time it annoys me at Costco (which we’ve shopped for years) is when there is a long line, which I think has (luckily/amazingly) only happened a couple/few times. I’d love to keep walking and I wonder what they would do?

    I’m not sure what I thought they were checking for – they just do a quick glance at the cart, quick glance at the receipt and really the drawing for my kids takes longer then both combined!