“Go back and show them the receipt, or you’re going to jail”

I went to Best Buy this evening. I was nearly arrested in the parking lot for refusing to return to the store and show store employees my receipt. Here’s how it went down.

My wife and I bought some movies at our local Best Buy store on the evening of November 26th. In the parking lot, on the way back to our car, a Hillsborough County Sheriff intercepted me, detained me, and said that I had to return to the store and show them my receipt, because it is “store policy.” I politely declined, and said that regardless of their “policy,” the purchases and the receipt were my property, and Best Buy had no authority to demand that I return to the store and let them inspect my property. He replied “they don’t, but I do have the authority.” He continued: “go back and show them the receipt, or you’re going to jail.” Oh how I wish I were making that line up. It feels silly to even type it.

What would the charge be? “Excessive knowledge of the Fourth Amendment?” “Walking in parking lot with intent to mind one’s own business?” Absurd.

I didn’t go to jail. But neither did I return to the store. The officer took the receipt back to the store. Partial victory, I guess. If Sarah weren’t there, I absolutely would have told him to go ahead and arrest me. I really doubt he would have gone through with it. And had he gone through with it, I would have undoubtedly had a strong unlawful arrest lawsuit. I didn’t want to upset Sarah and ruin her evening, so I let him take the receipt. But I didn’t take one step back towards the store. If he was going to threaten to jail me over some stupid store policy with no legal basis, he was going to have to do all the work to jump through the store’s hoops. He brought the receipt back. The only change was that they had highlighted the phrase “Keep your receipt.” That’s rich. I was TRYING to keep it, but this rude officer said he’d arrest me if I did keep it. I asked the officer for his card. He verbally declined to identify himself and walked away. I got a first initial and last name from his uniform, however. Wrote a complaint to Best Buy, conveyed the story to The Consumerist, and am considering filing a complaint with Internal Affairs.

It is absurd for an officer to be threatening to jail someone for refusing to let a third party inspect their property, with no suspicion of wrongdoing. I was in the parking lot, minding my own business. It was an abuse of power for the officer to try to enforce store policies by threatening arrest if I failed to comply.

Remember, unless you explicitly agreed to allow the inspection of your purchases (common examples are Costco or Sam’s Club, where it’s in your membership agreement), you are under no obligation to show anyone a receipt as condition of leaving a store. And certainly not as a condition of getting in your car in the parking lot. If you don’t mind the imposition and the veiled accusation of malfeasance that usually accompanies it, go ahead and consent. If you’d rather proceed with your business, just politely decline. The best thing to do is to say “No, thank you,” and keep walking. I don’t always decline. If they ask me in the store, politely, I often allow it. But I never turn back to a store if they yell after me or if an alarm goes off. At that point, they’ve ceased being polite about our interaction, and I refuse to inconvenience myself at the behest of a boor. If they chase after me like a thief, and demand to inspect my property, it is now an adversarial relationship, and I will not respond with any degree of servility.

I want to make it clear: there was no mention that I might be suspected of shoplifting, and the receipt check seems to have had nothing to do with “loss prevention,” as no attempt was made to cross-reference the items on the receipt with the items I was carrying. No employee spoke to me in the store about checking my receipt. The first I heard of any objection to my egress was after I had left the store.

I understand that theft is a huge problem in retail stores. But I’m not in any way contributing to it. The only “loss” that they’re going to have at my hand, if this isn’t resolved to my satisfaction, is the loss of a customer who has spent over $6,500 at that particular Best Buy store in the last three years. It is not good public relations to treat your customers like criminals and send the police after them to threaten them with arrest for insufficient obsequiousness to the minutia of store policies regarding the use of highlighters by men in yellow polos.

Comments

  1. says

    I’m torn on this issue. They are private institutions trying to keep costs down for legitimate customers by ensuring that people leaving their building full of stuff, actually paid for the stuff they’re leaving with. It’s a private business, on private property, in a privately owned parking lot. It’s a fairly trivial inconvenience to show your receipt as a guest of their premises, as proof that your presence was a win-win transaction. Yet, I do understand that they ought to have a reason to use force against you under the presumption of theft. Where there is no probable cause, I guess there’s no good reason to stop you, other than “security theater”, or if your purchases made the alarm go off while walking out.

    • I agree with op says

      Showing receipts is just a house rule. Cops cannot enforce that nor can they take action on a contractual dispute (Costco, Sam’s). They can only take action if someone is accused of theft (or other crime) and have probable cause to that effect. So the deputy was in the wrong. I would ask for the video/audio recording from the police car (they usually carry a microphone) and I would definitely submit a complaint to internal affairs.

  2. Jasmine says

    I’m an employee at Best Buy, in Hillsborough county (there are a few). You need to understand that you visited a VERY busy retail store on Black Friday. The entire company’s policy today was to check EVERY single receipt. Usually we only check them for TV’s and computers, or if the alarm goes off.

    If an alarm goes off, we honestly don’t check the bag because we think you are stealing, we check it to make sure that there are no security devices accidentally left on your product (which could prevent a major hassle for you).

    Also, if you owned a store and the policy was to check receipts, and you had a customer who just walked past you and seemed ANGRY at the fact you needed to see the receipt, wouldn’t that seem a bit sketchy to you? It would to me.

    We are just trying to keep costs down by preventing as much loss as possible. Maybe instead of having a bad attitude and preaching about your “rights”, you could have just shown them your receipt and politely gone about your business. It’s customers like you, who rant about “how much money you’ve spent” or how “you deserve better because of all the business you give us” that make our jobs the hardest. I would rather work with a customer who is polite for an hour on a $10 USB cable, than make a $4,000 sale to a customer with an attitude problem who feels they need to be catered to.

    • says

      I would rather work with a customer who is polite for an hour on a $10 USB cable, than make a $4,000 sale to a customer with an attitude problem who feels they need to be catered to.

      Er…so you’re saying you’d prefer a customer like Mark?

    • Skye says

      Your customer service attitude is what made me stop shopping at Best Buy for over 10 years. Repeat customers whether they spend a dollar or four-thousand dollars should always be shown respect and courtesy.

    • Sabbatai says

      If I owned a store, which I do..I would ensure that security measures were functioning well enough to know if someone stole something before they got right next to the exit.

      I might also hire employees who engage the customers in conversation which prevents a huge amount of theft.

      Then I might go sit at my desk in my office and read the literally hundreds of reports on how 75-90% of retail theft is committed by staff members.

      I was threatened in the same manner as the writer for daring to wear a hat I bought 15 years ago that happened to look like on on sale in the store I visited. Two plain clothes off duty cops moonlighting as security for the store set upon me and demanded I stop walking toward my car.

      I was then tackled when I did not stop. I didn’t stop because I didn’t think they were talking to me. Well it has been a few years now and I have never returned to that store. They are lucky I didn’t press charges.

      In the future I will not be complying with any of these policies which assume I am a thief first and only after they decide I am not can I be treated like a valued customer.

    • says

      You need to understand that you visited a VERY busy retail store on Black Friday.

      It wasn’t that busy. There were no lines at the register.

      The entire company’s policy today was to check EVERY single receipt.

      They didn’t ask to check my receipt. I paid, left the store, and then a cop detained me in the parking lot. So because some receipt-checker wasn’t doing their job, I’m now threatened with arrest.

      Also, if you owned a store and the policy was to check receipts, and you had a customer who just walked past you and seemed ANGRY at the fact you needed to see the receipt, wouldn’t that seem a bit sketchy to you?

      I wasn’t angry. I was calm the entire time. I didn’t walk past anyone asking for my receipt. I just left the store with my purchases. But even if I were angry, and even if I did refuse to let them see my receipt in the store, that’s still not grounds for going to jail. They have two options: let it go, or formally accuse me of shoplifting. If you know anything about loss prevention, you know that there is a checklist of 5 or 6 things that an LP specialist has to see before they can accuse someone of shoplifting. They had none of these things.

      Maybe instead of having a bad attitude and preaching about your “rights”, you could have just shown them your receipt and politely gone about your business.

      My attitude was perfectly good. I politely told the officer that I did not wish to return to the store to get my receipt marked. It the officer (and, my wife now tells me, the Best Buy employee) who were being rude.

      It’s customers like you, who rant about “how much money you’ve spent” or how “you deserve better because of all the business you give us” that make our jobs the hardest.

      How have I made anyone’s job hard? When the yellow shirt employee (who my wife says was off to the side chatting up a female employee) noticed that he hadn’t checked my receipt, he could have shrugged, and continued his conversation. Or perhaps moved back into place so he could check the next receipt. Instead he (according to my wife) rudely yelled out into the parking lot after me, and when I didn’t hear him, the cop went after me.

    • says

      It’s hard to decide whether Jasmine is a real Best Buy employee. On one hand she’s got the right attitude for the job, but on the other, when was the last time you saw a cable for sale at Best Buy for less than $20?

    • frankule says

      “The entire company’s policy today was to check EVERY single receipt.”

      Is this “policy” every conveyed to the public with a sign or notice when entering the store? Whether or not it is, You’re admitting to personally violating it by saying you only check for tvs and computers..
      I think next time I shop there and I’m asked for my receipt I will decline to show it to them. If they pull the “store policy” crap, I’m not going to leave until they show it to me, on paper..

    • Scott says

      Congrats, Jasmine. You just lost another customer who was planning on dropping a lot of money at Best Buy this season. Good luck with all those “polite” $10 USB cable customers. Your post here cost Best buy the equivalent of a couple hundred of those sheep.

  3. Jason says

    If best buy is going to make me feel like a criminal, by checking receipts 10 ft from where I just paid for it. I will not shop at their stores.

  4. Ducker says

    Sorry to hear about your experience.

    I haven’t shopped at a Best Buy in 4 years. Not a happy place for variety of reasons.

  5. Adrián says

    Let me support what was said by Ducker, exactly, Best Buy is not an appropriate place to shop. In my case, could be more than 5 years since the last time I bought something at Best Buy.

    I also live in the area of Tampa Bay, I know that store is close to you, but avoid this.

    It’s crazy the person who planned to have a Hillsborough police at Best Buy for such occasions.

    1. Best Buy has to pay Hillsborough County or Police Department to quickly address something like this.
    2. A Hillsborough police officer, per hour is not cheap.
    3. There must be at least 3 television to justify a police officer involved.

    Mark, Best Buy long since lost track of commercial reality, it is my opinion as a consumer.

    Adrián, from derechoanglosajon.com

  6. Mike says

    Studies have proven that most theft is by employees- not customers. This store treats all customers as guilty until proven innocent, and people that continue to shop there are supporting this policy. Don’t want to be treated like a criminal? Support stores that don’t treat you like one.

  7. Me! says

    Can’t believe I stumbled on this…the exact same thing happened to my husband and I yesterday…except, my husband did not hand over the receipt.

    He was arrested. You got it. ARRESTED! Even after we gave the on-duty officers the receipts.

    Disorderly conduct.

    Funny thing is, there nothing written in that city ordinance disorderly conduct statute that says anything about ignoring an unposted store policy based on voluntary compliance. And we didn’t say a word or get angry…we stood in the vestibule quietly answering this thug of an off-duty officer (yes, they charged him with a CITY ordinance, not a REAL disorderly conduct charge). We kept asking politely is if we were being detained (no) and if we were free to leave (no).

    We have an appointment with a lawyer on Monday.

      • Me! says

        I should mention that I did contact the store anonymously (a different location…I will not speak to anyone at the actual store where this happened…they can talk to my lawyer) and asked if I could have a copy of the store’s Manditory Surrender of the Customer’s Copy of a Receipt or the Customer Cannot Exit Policy. They said they have no written policy on this issue in the store (not posted, nor in any policy book)…and although they said it is a manditory policy, it is not a policy in written form (huh?? yeah, I know!). I was referred to Corporate.

        So I called corporate…

        …and no, the Corporate office also cannot give me a copy of this policy because she “can’t find it.”

        Wowsa!

        I will update as this case progresses!

    • says

      Oh man, the ‘disorderly conduct’ business. I’m sorry to hear about your situation. As someone else who has fallen victim to this. It’s a fallback charge for someone on a power trip. Disorderly conduct and Drunk and disorderly both. You don’t have to be disorderly for a disorderly conduct charge…..and you don’t have to be drunk for a drunk and disorderly charge. Hell, they don’t even give you a breathalyzer. Both of these charges are a ‘your word against theirs’ charge. And unless you can afford the lawyer, you lose.

  8. says

    Mark-

    Man, that blows.

    Then comes the “nopology,” right? I’m sorry you got upset.

    I guess that’s a reason not to buy at best buy–it’s an offer of goods and services that doesn’t make any sense.

    I hope that there can be a respect for the rule of law, not fiat, and the ideas that go along with it.

    Anyway, the IJ.ORG would probably be interested in this case, as would my clients the http://f4fs.org

    I wish you nothing but the best, and godspeed.

  9. says

    What gives sworn police officers the right to enforce a private business’s policies? Policies are not laws! Police officers are LAW enforcement…

    Nothing winds me up faster than policy slaves.

  10. Brett says

    Was this a Sheriff’s Deputy or a Police Officer?

    A Sheriff’s deputy in Florida is -not- a sworn, certified, or commissioned police officer. They are a political appointee carrying civil powers way beyond those of a police officer; including extensive powers to intervene in civil disputes.

    This does not make what the deputy did right, but it does give the deputy a lot of political leeway to take such actions. They literally answer to no one but the Sheriff. Each Sheriff in Florida (with a few exceptions, but Hillsborough is not one) is considered the governing legislative body for his department, a power delegated to each Sheriff by the State legislature.

  11. says

    I tell you what this situation reminds me of. You know when you pay at the pump with a card, and it asks if you want a receipt? Do NOT say no. I hated wasting the paper, so I always said no. Then one day, about half way to work I got pulled over by a police officer for a drive off (stealing gas). I had paid for the gas, but had no receipt to prove it. Dealing with that took the better part of a day, made me quite late to work, etc. Turns out te cashier had called in the wrong car, and they just went on her description with no proof.

  12. Hank says

    I would have gone back in and showed my receipt then went to the returns counter and return all my items for my money back.

  13. says

    Great job! Make these jokers produce a valid 4th amendment reason to search.

    I say you are a great American for 1) knowing your rights as a citizen, and 2) maintaining those rights in the face of belligerence.

  14. says

    Here I am trying to figure out how to put these thumbnails into a WP theme (thanks a ton for that post by the way) and I read this.

    I applaud you for not giving in to them (you only did so out of respect for your wife, who trumps all others; right or wrong). I’m in Jacksonville and all of the surrounding large department stores are the same way. Target and BB being the worst.

    My wife an I have sworn off of both of them when I almost found myself in a physical confrontation with a security guy at Target. They called him because I was using an Android app to shop around for one of their items. I was asked to refrain from taking pictures, and after attempting to explain what the app was (I know, in Target; I may as well have explained it to a tree), they called the security guy.

    He came running ready to fight and I started walking toward him; so he backed off. I thank God every day that he made me look meaner than I am. If that guy would have known I was a teddy bear it wouldn’t have been as pleasant a story.

    Besides, we should be giving our money to the smaller shops anyway. They usually carry products of higher quality, and really show appreciation when we become repeat visitors.

  15. George says

    Just out of curiosity — what is the principle you are defending by as a general practice not showing the receipt as you leave the store? (recognizing that in this particular instance you were not asked).

    • says

      That once I pay for merchandise, it is my property. My property is not subject to searches without my consent, a court order, or reasonable suspicion. That’s the principle. As to why I might want to defend that principle, I often object to the tone with which they ask (or command, sometimes).

  16. says

    I have to agree with you 100% on this post. However, I do walk away with a very large question…

    If you stop going to Best Buy, with the death of Circuit City and CompUSA, where in the hell is one supposed to go to get their Geek on?