Can a Store Legally Check Your Bag or Make You Show a Receipt?
You just went through the checkout-line or self-checkout. You grab your bags, your receipt and head to the door. You're about to leave the store and you get stopped. Someone is asking to see your receipt. What do you do?
I believe that most people would stop without any problem and show their receipt but, is it required legally? It's happened to me before and I truly didn't think anything of it. I showed my receipt and moved on. Nothing to hide, nothing to see, but do stores have the legal authority to stop you when you're leaving to check your bag or receipt? I've seen the question pop up on social media this week, so I was curious to find some answers.
First off, I already know that some of the "membership big box stores" have this in their terms of service agreements. It's expected when you leave to pull out your receipt and have it checked. They check every single customer, so there's truly no surprises.
This is a little different. What if you're leaving and singled out? For me, nothing to hide so look inside. But, I understand that it can also make someone feel like by asking, you're being accused. When you've done nothing wrong.
If someone was looking to steal on the other hand, sometimes the signs are there. I managed a music store back in my 20s' and was trained on how to spot, handle and treat a possible thief. It's not a fun part of the job for anyone. I remember when two teenage girls came in to the store. They went right to the music t-shirt section of the store. The signs started almost immediately, so I kept my eyes on them. They were stuffing shirts into their bags, ready to make their move. I had to finish checking out a customer, when they exited the store. What I did next was not what the training says to do. I actually, followed them out as they went to their car. Theft training 101 is to NEVER do that, but I could tell that they were just being young and dumb. I stopped them at the car and confronted them. They knew that they were caught, and I did get the shirts back. No, I didn't call the police, or make a scene, but they did get banned from the store and I called their parents. I figured they'd get more punishment that way, but technically it probably wasn't legal for me to stop them at all outside of the store. Or, was it?
See, it's a tough balance. When people steal, we ALL pay the price. Stores go out of business, prices go up...you get it. It's a tightrope for employees when making those split decisions. But, back to the question at hand. Do you legally have to show the receipt? I found out that it's much easier to comply, but you don't legally have to.
I went to Legal Definitions to pose the question, and they shared some good advice on the matter of whether you must show a receipt.
"The short answer is no. At most retailers, an employee can’t force you to show them your receipt or allow them to search your bag.
In certain circumstances, store employees are justified in holding you until the police arrive. Known as the Shopkeeper’s Privilege, the store employee can stop you from leaving if they believe that you shoplifted. In order to hold you, the employee must have probable cause to believe you are a shoplifter. This suspicion must be supported by specific facts. This could be anything from the employee witnessing you pocketing merchandise without paying and then leaving the store.
Whether you paid for your items with cash or a gift card, the potential hassle of complying with a door greeter’s request probably won’t outweigh the hassle of refusing. Sure, you have the right to refuse. But in most cases, flashing your receipt takes a matter of seconds."
I hope this information helps, but just remember that if you refuse to comply, a store has the right to ban you from the premises, or they can revoke your club membership. They 100% have the legal right to do that. To me, it's not worth it!