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.