The Real Reason Sam's Club and Costco Check Your Receipts
It's not to check for theft.
I don't know about you, but I've always assumed the store employees checking receipts at the door are making sure customers aren't smuggling things out in their shopping carts.
So I felt confused when I came upon a Reddit thread that said otherwise. So confused, in fact, that I shared this Reddit thread—which includes responses from former employees who work at big-box retailers—with my colleagues, and we spent some heated time debating why some retailers check your receipt at the door—and whether it's even legal.
Contrary to popular belief, especially at wholesale retailers like Costco and Sam's Club, the "Exit Greeter" (which is industry speak for the employee who will ask for your receipt) is actually there to help save you money. Mind blown, right? But the argument is this: The EG is checking your receipt for duplicate charges or for missed promotions, and if an error occurs, will help you get a refund as swiftly and smoothly as possible.
“Trust me, we’re not loss prevention, we have loss prevention in the store and that’s not us," writes one former Costco employee. "We’re literally just trying to make sure our cashiers do the job right, and when we do catch it, all the information gets stored. Who did it, what time, etc...and those cashiers get spoken to. This is not to benefit anyone but the member to improve the experience overall.”
I wanted to hear more about the goals that exit greeters achieve in membership clubs, where receipt checking is most common, so I reached out to Laura Ladd Poff, the senior manager of corporate communications for Sam's Club.
"Having an exit greeter is a great opportunity to have another chance to connect with the customer before they leave," Poff explains. "It's an opportunity to ask them if they found everything they were looking for, and if they have everything they need—but it's also a chance to make sure their transaction went smoothly, and the cashier didn't accidentally ring up anything twice."
At Sam's Club, in particular, some stores enable shoppers to use a mobile app to "scan and go," as Poff explains, and the exit greeter can check to see if their transaction went smoothly—even if they didn't checkout with an actual cashier.
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And if it seems like the employee checking your receipt is extra nice and chatty, it's for good reason—Poff says Sam's Clubs' exit greeters will also take a moment to remind membership holders of upcoming sales or special events.
"Taking a moment to check the receipt also offers us another opportunity to engage that member further," she says. "It's not uncommon for the greeter to say, 'Hey! Swing back on Saturday for a special sale on these items.'"
When asked if Sam's Club exit greeters are a form of loss prevention, Poff said that isn't the reason why the Walmart-owned membership club asks for receipts—it's a quality check, rather, and a chance to encourage the member to shop again soon.
This Consumerist article explains that Costco's set up is very similar, where receipt-checkers aren't even trained to watch for theft: “We weren’t trained to catch shoplifting, we were trained to make sure that people were not being overcharged. During the time I spent receipt checking I probably caught well over $1000 in overcharges," one former Costco source tells the publication.
After all, there's a reason why your receipt is checked and not your cart. Poff says that Sam's Club reserves "the right to request that members show receipts." At Sam's Club, membership terms stipulate that they reserve "the right to inspect any container, backpack, briefcase and so forth of any person upon entering or leaving the Club." Similarly, at Costco, membership agreements says customers are expected to cooperate with a receipt check.
So it seems that, by refusing to hand over a receipt, you may risk forfeiting membership. There are still members who refuse—one writer's depiction of his defiant Costco shopping experience in the Orange County Register is by turns funny and harrowing.
Legality issues aside, it seems that receipt checks may be truly worth all the hassle—they could actually save you from an accidental overcharge.