Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
What’s the real reason Costco employees check receipts at the exit? (thetakeout.com)
49 points by kimsk112 5 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 55 comments

Perhaps it's related to the 'membership' marketing aspect. Checking to see if you have your membership card upon entry, and this strange little check when you leave, cements into the customer that there is something special about Costco and only certain people can shop there. Maybe. I wonder how much of the membership aspect is marketing versus revenue?

> Maybe. I wonder how much of the membership aspect is marketing versus revenue?

In 2016, membership fees accounted for 72% of their operating income. It's definitely not just "marketing" -- it's central to their business model. If they started jacking up the margins on merchandise, people would notice and their memberships would start to drop off.

Back in the day, it used to be hard to be a Costco membership (late 80s/early 90s). I recall that only people who worked at certain companies (Boeing comes to mind) could get memberships.

It's not considered an exclusive thing anymore, though, since membership only costs, what, $55?

Even 10 years ago parts of it were more exclusive than today: you used to need to pay for the Executive membership to get the monthly coupons and other offers that all members can get now. I'm sure they crunched the numbers and realized they were leaving money on the table by doing that.

At my local Costco, they don't even check membership card upon entry anymore. Someone is standing there generally, but don't question when no card is presented.

At mine, you can buy alcohol without a membership. But, they still check.

In Texas they are legally required to sell you alcohol without the membership. They have a totally separate area with a different entrance for the liquor store in every Costco in Texas that I have been to. I tested the theory that they will have to let you in/sell it anyway in the main store because they still sell beer and wine in the main store. To give some context, in Texas, you can buy any beer/wine in a "grocery" store i.e. Costco, but hard liquors must only be sold from a licensed liquor store.

So with that in mind and without a Costco membership I loaded up on a case of beer and some wine only in the main store and took it to the checkout. They subsequently refused to check me out in the main store and sent me to the liquor store with the outside entrance.

I wonder what would have happened if I had tried to purchase beer or wine in the same fashion on Sunday (liquor stores must be closed on Sunday per Texas law, but selling beer/wine in grocery stores like Costco on Sundays is legal). I think they would have been legally required to sell me beer/wine in the main store if so, and even though they probably would have refused as before I believe if challenged/complained this practice of refusing to sell beer/wine to non-members inside the store would not be ruled legal by TABC (the state commission in Texas that governs alcohol sales).

It would be an interesting niche law to explore if you were interested in challenging Texas laws regarding sale of alcohol I guess.

I think that's usually due to laws / regulations on alcohol sales.

The linked article bases this on three sources; one former employee answering on Quora, one more answering on the consumerist, and a third answering on a 45 comment reddit thread not specifically on Costco. Take it with a huge grain of salt.

I've actually worked at a Sam's Club and done checking briefly. I feel that this is the stated reason, but you're talking checking hundreds of receipts over a 4 + hour shift, often massive ones due to multiple flatbeds of groceries or goods; the idea its being used to check up on the cashiers is absurd to me. Many times, high-dollar items like meats you'd want to check are already in freezer bags, obscured from view.

I think its mostly to prevent high value items from leaving, or at least to alert management they are. I mean, anyone who his rung up a vending machine route guy and his 100 boxes of candy who kind of scoff at the retiree checkers doing that fine of an job.

Thank you for taking a look at the sources.

Salt grain status: taken.

It's also to mark the receipt, preventing someone going back into the store and putting same items into the cart (slyly walk by self check out) and leaving with the same receipt.

According to my friend who was a SVP at Costco, this is, in fact, a primary reason. It's to mark the receipt so it cannot be used again.

Can’t the cashier do that?

The idea is to mark when you're leaving the store, so you need someone actually standing by the exit. If the cashier did it, it wouldn't really prevent the scam. You could still circle back into the store and skip the cashier on the second run.

I wouldn't be surprised if it's also used by loss protection to make sure you stand in one place on the way in, and on the way out, as a way of making sure they get a clean camera shot of you.

Loss Prevention will have cameras and sometimes plain clothes folks wandering around the store, and if they suspect you're up to something they can zoom in and follow you. Adding a step prior to exiting where your receipt is checked adds one more chance to confirm bad behavior, and gives LP time to zoom in on your cart and your face.

Really though, but interesting to see the naiveness of other comments.

They're also there to make sure you got your "pick up later" items, like gift cards and tickets to amusement parks. I've had one send me back after realizing I paid for stamps but never picked them up (although now they just have them in the register).

> actually there to spot cashier errors, not shoplifting

The Costco's I've been to, when I had a membership, they don't spend enough time on the receipt to possibly catch errors. They just glance at your purchases and the receipt, then tick off the receipt. Even at that level of checking, a line up can form during a busy time.

I suspect they are just marking the receipt so you can't go back with that receipt in your pocket and then steal the same item(s).

There is a time stamp, of course, but a pen mark is faster to grok.

They might be able to spot double scans at a glance (since exact repeats on a receipt are visually distinct) and check that the customer has two of that item, that's about it.

Perhaps, but I honestly buy the "catching errors" idea. They don't have to be perfect to catch enough mistakes to identify a bad cashier (scanning an item twice and missing an item are both bad).

I think checking at the door is not good enough to prevent theft, especially at busy times. It's just too easy to hide stuff or blame it on the cashier forgetting to scan it. There are more cashiers than checkers, so it seems the bottleneck would be the checkers if they tried to make it thorough enough to be effective.

So yeah, my guess is that the OP is correct, and that interpretation has always been my assumption.

The stated reason, "to check for overcharges" doesn't really make sense. Those door people know what everything costs in the store?

They are checking that items were not rung up multiple times. My guess is something scans once but the cashier doesn't realize or isn't pay attention and scans it again by mistake.

Ok that makes slightly more sense, but I don't see how this could be very common. Or at least common enough to require a person to man the door.

I would imagine there is a scam where you buy two of a mid-price item and then go back and claim you only bought one and were double charged. Not sure how many times you can get away with that at Costco due to the membership, though.

I feel like a for loop could perform this task for a much lower salary than the receipt checker. There must be something else they're there for.

Said for-loop would also have to know and check against the contents of the cart. If you can do that, you don't need checkers at all.

I don't think that's true. If you want to know which cashiers are double-scanning items, you just need to know how many double scans there are per cashier. Then you can compare people against an average and retrain the cashiers that are significantly above the average.

How do you know if it’s a double scan or if someone actually bought two of something?

I’ve certainly seen cashiers see that you’re buying two of something and just skin one of them twice really fast and then put both of them in the bag.

Why would one cashier more customers buying duplicate items than another?

If you flip a coin twice and it comes up heads both times, it might be a coincidence. If you flip a coin 100 times and it comes up heads all 100 times, there is probably something up with the coin.

I'm assuming the goal is to actually avoid screwing those particular costumers, not just gather statistics.

No other store does this and everyone seems fine with it. I don't think anyone likes waiting in line after paying to leave the store, right? I certainly don't.

Sometimes the cashiers forget to hand you movie tickets or the consumer forgets that they need to pick up an item from the electronics cage. Once they caught that I didn't get the movie tickets I had paid for, felt really nice.

They're making sure that something you only have one of didn't get counted more than once, or vice versa.

An anecdote is not data. However yes - I’ve had a Costco receipt checker notice that I didn’t get a discount that I should’ve gotten, and insist that I go with them to correct the receipt and pay a few dollars less money.

It's everything mentioned. It just sounds better to tell everyone that you're worrying about over-charging, than that you don't trust your customers and/or employees, and also want to make sure there was no mistakes.

It doesn't matter how these people are trained, or what they are told. They will still prevent theft, even if they think it's not their job. It's even better if they genuinely think they are helping customers (which they in fact do!) because that makes the attitude of everyone involved better.

It doesn't matter that they don't catch many theft attempts. That's the whole point, that if they are effective at prevention, there will be no attempts in the first place.

Not a Costco, but at a WalMart I was stopped after buying almost 100$ in groceries and had misplaced the receipt (not really paying attention, it was after a long day...)

The person at the door stopped me and asked for my receipt. I wasn’t even sure if I had gotten it so I told them and they insisted they see it.

After checking my pockets quickly I said I didn’t have it and they insisted I try and find the cashier and get one.

They really wanted to make sure I hadn’t stolen a plastic drawer.

I’m 99% sure this was made up, but the lady claimed that because of its size I needed to produce a receipt (a 20$ plastic drawer you might keep in your pantry...)

Every time I think back I get annoyed with myself for not just walking out on them.

I had something similar happen at the Costco in SOMA. The guy at the door insisted that he see my receipt. I'd thrown it in the trash. We got into an argument and he wanted to call security. I told him to piss off and left.

It's not a secret -- quite often they will tell you exactly why they're checking your receipt: to make sure "the checker didn't miss anything or overcharge" and "that you got your movie tickets/food/etc".

Yes, because the reasons companies tell you they do something is always the truth.

Even if they aren’t explictly there to prevent theft I’m sure they do. Knowing you’ll have to run that gauntlet on top of the other loss prevention techniques would make me want to try a softer Target (pun intended)

I don't know if I buy into the fact that that's the only reason why they're there. But I did have this happen to me. I only took one of a thing that could only be charged in pairs of 2. They weren't packaged that way, so I only took 1. The cashier didn't catch it, but the door person did.

When I’ve gone to CostCo, the only thing the people at the exit did was to count the number of items you had and to see if that more or less matched the number of items on the receipt.

That seems like the simplest possible check they could make regarding the checkout process.

I wonder if this applies to other stores that check receipts as you leave? I know Fry's does it, for example, and Wal-Mart does it every once in awhile.

I have to admit, I just say no and keep on walking.

They have detectives (sometimes ex-cops) roaming the store to spot shoplifting, tag swapping, etc.

Is that the common practice for big box retailers that have receipt checkers at the exit?

Costco's the only place I can think of that does this. Is it common at other stores?

Frye's Electronics does as well

Best Buy and Sam's Club do. Though the Best Buy guy really seems to be more of a theft deterrent person since he's dressed in vaguely cop-like clothes, and doesn't check receipts. Seems to be more there to be ready to tackle you if the theft alarm goes off as you walk out the door.

In Best Buy would be much easier to go pick something up and then try and walk out the front door.

At Costco you’d either have to go past the person checking your membership card (back through the entrance) or go through the cashier section without being caught and then get past the receipt tracker.

Best Buy has done it for as long as I remember

They are there to catch theft, but a different kind of theft. The "I put three items in my shopping cart, and then my buddy, who is manning the cash register, only scanned one" kind of theft.

Insider attacks, essentially.

No, that's really not at all what the article, the quotes from former employees, or my own experience says.

Those justifications simply aren't believable. All of the problems supposedly being solved have cheaper, more effective solutions than paying someone to stand at the door harassing customers. Employee-assisted theft doesn't.

Looking at it from a pure profit-maximizing POV, whether an undercharge is accidental or deliberate yields the same financial result in most cases -- inventory "shrinkage".

Correct. It gives time for the staff (eg security) to decide what they want to do with you in the case of suspected theft or deception. You don't have to stop, and sometimes I don't. It's not a legal requirement and any legal challenge is less cost effective for them if you aren't a suspect.

The fact that isn't obvious, is not surprising but it is elementary, regardless of professions to the contrary.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact