This is why Sam's Club checks your receipt at the door

You know the drill. You're finally on your way out of Sam's Club, cart loaded up with all manner of goodies (most of which probably weren't even on your list), when all of a sudden you find your way is barred by an employee demanding to see your papers. Well, one particular piece of paper – the receipt listing all of the items you bought. If you're perhaps a wee bit organizationally-challenged, you may experience a momentary flutter of panic, wondering where you stashed the darn thing and worrying that maybe it's lost and you'll have to abandon that whole cartload of groceries –- or, worse, that Sam's will try to have you arrested for stealing! 

Perhaps you may also wonder just why Sam's feels it's necessary to check you on your way out the door. While they're not the only ones to do so -– Costco and some Walmarts also follow a similar policy –- still, it's not generally something you experience at a grocery store, a clothing store, or even a jewelry store. Just what makes warehouse clubs so paranoid? And just how likely is it that you could possibly be smuggling out a five-gallon jug of ketchup, anyway? Chill out -– it seems that theft-prevention may not be the only reason behind these door checks.

What a big-box employee says about receipt-checking

A Reddit thread on the topic of exit receipts, although actually specific to Costco and not Sam's, did reveal some of the reasons behind why retailers conduct these checks. While an employee admitted that yes, they were checking for any high-end items like electronics that maybe didn't appear on the receipt, or also for those frequently (yet inadvertently) omitted items stored below the cart like cases of water, it's as much a check to see if the cashier is performing their job correctly as it is to see if you are an incredibly inept thief. (As the Redditor put it, "If you were genuinely trying to steal something, you wouldn't just leave it sitting in your cart.")

The employee also revealed that there are times when these cart checks can actually benefit the shoppers. For example, if you've been charged twice for a single item due to employee error or you've purchased an item such as a gift card that needs to be picked up at a separate location and you've forgotten to make this pit stop, the cart checker will helpfully point these things out.

What customers have to say about receipt-checking

Several shoppers on that same Reddit thread chimed in with stories confirming the employee's assertion that cart checks were helpful and spoke of times when a receipt check did prevent them from unauthorized charges or forgetting something they paid for. Others, however, had horror stories about times when they'd been forced to engage in a long, miserable hassle because of something minor that didn't tally, with some even asserting that they'd been made to feel like a criminal.

Another employee's revelation that the store they worked for prominently posted its loss prevention numbers outside the employee break room kind of added to the general feeling that for the stores, if not their employees, yes, the receipt checks are done for their benefit, not yours. As one disgruntled customer put it, "If it [cart checking was] about "helping" us, it would be optional. I'm more than happy about being overcharged once in a while, if I don't have to stand in another d*mned line." A Sam's member also remarked on Facebook how the exit receipt scan policy kind of negates all the other stuff Sam's has put in place to ensure a speedy shopping experience: "Can I say how aggravating it is to me to be able to go thru the store and get all I need, so self check out that's fast then have to stand in line 10 deep to be able to get out the door. Grrr."

What Sam's Club has to say about receipt checks

Cooking Light wanted to hear directly from Sam's Club management what they had to say about checking its customers' receipts on exit, so they reached out to Laura Ladd Poff, Sam's senior manager of corporate communications. Naturally, Poff put a positive spin on things, saying: "Having an exit greeter is a great opportunity to have another chance to connect with the customer before they leave," adding that this exit interview allows the greeters to ask customers if if they have everything they need, if their transaction went smoothly, and yes, checking to make sure the cashier rang up the orders correctly.

She also reveals that it's basically one more opportunity for a little in-store advertising, or, as she puts it, "engag[ing] that member further." As Poff admits, "It's not uncommon for the greeter to say, 'Hey! Swing back on Saturday for a special sale on these items.'" So yes, you're standing in line all that time waiting to receive your own personal infomercial, if that makes you feel any better about things.

A word on the legality of receipt checks

While many shoppers take receipt checks as a given, others have raised questions as to their legality. When a Walmart in Folsom, California started asking to see customer receipts at the door, the ABC10 News team decided to check into whether this practice is permitted by law. What they found was...it's complicated. While laws may vary from state to state, an officer with the Folsom police department gave the following interpretation of the California penal code: "A person would not have to stop unless the merchant had probable cause to believe the person had taken merchandise without paying." What makes this such a tricky situation, however, is that if you refuse a receipt check, the merchant may see this refusal as "probable cause." Even if it's eventually determined that you did nothing wrong in refusing to submit, there's bound to be a world of unpleasantness (and possibly expensive legal fees) standing between you and vindication.

Oh, and if you're wondering where Walmart (which is, after all, Sam's parent company) stands on the matter, they told ABC10 that "our intent is to check every receipt," stating outright that this was being done to help prevent theft. So yes, the final word on it is, those receipt checks kind of are a slap in the face by Sam's (although not by the hapless employees tasked with carrying them out), but your only choice is to suck it up or find another place to shop.