Oh man, do I wish I could have been there for this

Don’t get me wrong, I like Costco. I do not, however, enjoy their policy of guarding the exit and carefully inspecting my receipt as I am trying to leave. It irks me that their default mode is to treat all customers as shoplifters, and I especially don’t like that they won’t own up to the reason why they do this. According to the signs they have posted, they’re delaying my exit for my protection. Gosh, thanks.

The receipt inspectors are generally a friendly lot, and if you have kids, the fellow may draw a smiley face on the back of the receipt. Alex has come to look forward to this. “Happy face!” he says, well in advance. His favorite part of going to Costco is leaving.

Or used to be. Today, the receipt inspector made Alex say “Please” and “Thank you,” which is within the bounds of reason… but then the guy reprimanded Alex because he didn’t say the words clearly enough. He wouldn’t hand over the drawing until he was satisfied with Alex’s enunciation. A frustrated Alex began to cry, which got Lea crying as well, and then my wife had two loudly crying kids on her hands. Thanks, Costco!

J regrets not having the presence of mind to lace into the guy. She mainly wanted to get the kids the hell out of there, and who can blame her? If she stuck around too much longer, he might not have let her leave until she passed a basic math test.

Man oh man, do I wish I could have been there. Did I say that already? Oh, right, it’s the title of this blog post.

For any Costco executives who might wander by here, and wish to understand the extent to which their gatekeeper royally screwed up, perhaps this bit of information will prove useful: ALEX IS MILDLY RETARDED. He didn’t talk at all until after age 3. Not one word. That Alex can converse as well as he does, as he heads towards his seventh year, is the result of a lot of hard work on the part of Alex’s teachers, parents, and Alex himself. And we sure the hell don’t need random store employees telling us we’re still not up to snuff. Just hand over the smiley face, schmuck. Or better yet, just get out of the way.

Update: For the benefit of the three bazillion Consumerist readers who are pouring through here… first of all, welcome! Second of all, for those of you who don’t care to read all the comments: I am no longer nearly as pissed off as I was when I wrote this. Some people think I’m trying to get the Costco guy fired, or want to set fire to his home, or whatever. No. I don’t even know his name, nor care. Should I get around to writing a letter, it will only be to the manager of my particular store, it will not identify the employee by name (how could it?), and it will merely say the things that would have been better said at the time of the incident, i.e., “I know your friendly employee was trying to banter with my kids, but perhaps that bantering should stop short of correcting a child’s diction.” We’re not overreacting or going to pieces over here, I promise.

I still don’t like Costco’s receipt-checking procedure, but that’s another story.

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  1. Adam
    Posted June 26, 2007 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    what a jackass. I definately would have lost it on the guy.


  2. Posted June 26, 2007 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    This merits a letter to the management of the store, if you ask me. (You did ask me, right?) You could practically lift this blog post and paste it into your word processor, and there you are.


  3. Posted June 26, 2007 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    I think a letter to the company may be in order? And perhaps a copy of that letter sent to your local town newspaper, or whereever the store is located?


  4. Posted June 26, 2007 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    Yes, don’t just vent this. Take action so that someone learns what is and isn’t part of their job.


  5. Posted June 26, 2007 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    I’m getting angry just thinking about it. A calmly but strongly worded letter to the store manager would not be out of order. If it were me, I would consider taking my dollars to a competing establishment, and I would tell the manager that as well. You might also consider cc’ing Jeffrey Long (Senior Vice President, General Manager- Northeast Region) and/or John Matthews (Senior Vice President, Human Resources and Risk Management) (from this page), at Costco’s corporate office (address is at the bottom of this page. That’s simply egregious (on top of the customer-as-shoplifter mentality, but leave that out for the time being).


  6. Posted June 26, 2007 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    Now that I’ve had a couple of hours to think about this… I’m still a bit pissed off. But I also don’t think the guy was seriously trying to teach my child manners. He was just engaging in playful banter, or so he thought, until everything exploded. I am vaguely reminded of the time a colleague came up to me and joked, “Where’s the funeral?” because I was wearing a suit. As it happens, I was wearing a suit because I was going to a funeral. He was more than a little embarrassed, as no doubt Mr. Costco would have been had I informed him why my son does not enunciate like Dick Cavett.

    I’m still going to write a letter, because the guy really did make a dumb-ass mistake, and I think Costco should be aware of it. But I think it will be a mere yellow alert, not the Full Red I considered moments after hearing about this.


  7. Joel
    Posted June 27, 2007 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    Heck…go for the fulll Red Alert rather than a watered down yellow. The response will be so much more fun to read.


  8. Posted June 27, 2007 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    You know, you have every right to refuse to have your receipt checked or your bag searched.


  9. Posted June 27, 2007 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    Oh, here’s more: http://www.die.net/musings/bestbuy/

    Bottom line: Ignore the receipt check and leave.


  10. Posted June 27, 2007 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

    What, Costco’s hiring speech and language pathologists to work the exits now? Pfft. Red alert! Just because a disability is invisible doesn’t mean people who deal with the public shouldn’t learn how to catch on more quickly. I mean, if Alex were in a wheelchair, he wouldn’t make him reach higher and higher to get the receipt, would he? Same principle. Back the hell down, hand over the receipt, and shut your trap.

    Maybe in a couple decades that receipt checker will have a stroke and discover how frustrating it is for a stranger to criticize his enunciation.


  11. Brad
    Posted June 27, 2007 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

    You are not required to show your receipt at other stores, but it is a part of Costco’s membership policy, to which you must agree in order to shop there. When it comes to Circuit City, Best Buy, or any other store that asks for a receipt, I always refuse. Unfortunately, I’m cheap enough that I give up that right to save a few bucks at Costco.


  12. Mark
    Posted June 27, 2007 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

    Drew: “You know, you have every right to refuse to have your receipt checked or your bag searched.”

    That’s beside the point of the article. If you noticed, it used to be the children’s favorite part of the store. This article had nothing to do with whether they were okay with having their receipt checked. It had to do with some jerk-employee mouthing off because the children didn’t respond “properly.”

    But, still, thanks for the heads up! I used to work Loss Prevention in a store, but my superiors never taught me about the receipt-deal (fortunately it never came up on my part). But now I’ll use it to my advantage if I’m ever in a hurry: let me leave or I’ll sue you for false imprisonment.


  13. Metasheep
    Posted June 27, 2007 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

    Costco is a little different since you have to pay to be a member. They can impose rules like you have to have your receipt checked at the door.


  14. Bob Higgins
    Posted June 27, 2007 at 10:17 pm | Permalink


    I understand how upsetting this was, but I would urge you not to be too hard on the employee. He was trying to have fun with the child, and he thought this would be a clever way. Obviously he failed miserably. But he hardly seems like a bad person, and it doesn’t seem fair to come down on him full force.

    A call to the store manager pointing out the problem and suggesting a talk with the employee? By all means. But please don’t take the advice of those who want you to contact everyone from the media to the president of Costco and get this person fired. We’ve all screwed up before, often in ways even more embarrassing than this.


  15. Elaine
    Posted June 27, 2007 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

    I wish I could find the blog I read a few months back about similar experiences at Home Depot, where they want to mark your receipt with a pen after you exit the register. They are standing right next to the freaking register area. And you are not legally required to stop, so I don’t.

    I hate the hard sell, too. I have never spent an hour in an appliance store, even this one time when we bought 6 appliances in one visit. (PC Richard, thank you very much.) If they gave me a hard time, I would walk out and buy whatever it was over the Internet, even if I had to pay twice as much.


  16. Posted June 27, 2007 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

    No one’s saying anything about getting the guy fired. I don’t think the fellow intended to be malicious — not even close. But I still think writing a letter of complaint is a good idea, if only so people there get clued in that not every child is capable of perfect diction on command.


  17. Michael
    Posted June 28, 2007 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    Oh well then, that’s nice. A guy at a store engages in playful banter with your child, whom, I assume, does not appear outwardly unable to reply or respond, and you’re going to complain and quite possibly get this guy into heaps of trouble. You don’t think the guy who “picked on the mildly retarded boy” isn’t going to lose his job? Costco would drop him just to avoid the mildest of emberassment, believe me. And yes, it’s going to look far worse than it really is, as people are just going to hear about your son’s disability and picture some ogre of a security guard taunting him. The guy was doing a job that is pretty universally annoying (like meter maids or telemarketers) so that will make it look even worse. And now “The Consumerist” has picked up the story. Wonderful.

    I work with Children as a librarian. I don’t have their whole mental and physical health profiles at my fingertips and I’ve made some terrible gaffs over the years (having a pirate event where I came in with a fake peg leg and found out one of the children in the program had a prosthetic limb) but never with any malice. I highly doubt this person had any malice or cruelty in playing with your kid. In fact, your son obviously seemed so well-adjusted and behaved that the guard felt comfortable engaging him in play, unaware how your son might not be able to respond.

    Don’t complain, don’t write some manager who will take this above and beyond what it was, a simple misunderstanding that could be very easily alleviated with you or your wife saying something to the guard next time your see him at the store. If you don’t get satisfaction, and what I’m sure will be a profuse apology from that, take it up a level. As someone who works with the public I can tell you I’d rather you talk to me about an issue and try and resolve it. He’ll learn something and likely better at his job.



  18. Posted June 28, 2007 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    Did you happen to read the comments here before adding your own, Michael? Like the comment directly before yours, from me, where I say “I don’t think the fellow intended to be malicious?”

    I have no intention of getting this guy fired. I don’t even know his name, so I can hardly imagine how I could get him fired, so calm down. The only thing… the only thing I’d like Costco to communicate to its exit guards is that if a child’s voice is a little unclear, it might not be due to lack of enthusiasm for the concept of manners.


  19. Michael
    Posted June 28, 2007 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    Well, you sound like quite a snotty git there Eric. Best of luck filing your complaint about someone who dared to communicate with your child. Might I suggest you place him in a large bubble with a sign saying “Don’t Talk To Child, May Cause Problems” painted in large red letters on the side? Then he’ll be completely safe from ever having to actually have anything less than a happy-happy joy-joy experience with every person he encounters. And that’s what it’s all about Eric, the perfect pleasure and safety of your precious child. The fact you can’t see how filing a complaint about the guard could get him fired is just the icing on the egotistical cake.


  20. Posted June 28, 2007 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    Right. I’m the snotty one.


  21. Jason
    Posted June 28, 2007 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    “I have no intention of getting this guy fired. I don’t even know his name, so I can hardly imagine how I could get him fired, so calm down. The only thing… the only thing I’d like Costco to communicate to its exit guards is that if a child’s voice is a little unclear, it might not be due to lack of enthusiasm for the concept of manners.”

    He’s a guy who gets paid minimum wage to look at receipts at a discount retailer. He didn’t do anything to be mean on purpose, you don’t need to talk to his manager and get new rules imposed on all of the receipt checkers because your son is a special case.

    Through all of this apparent enunciation taunting, would it have killed you to say “He has a mild speech problem”?


  22. Posted June 28, 2007 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    Holy smokes, people.

    Jason, I wasn’t there, as the title of this blog post (“I wish I could have been there”) somewhat hints at. Therefore I was in no position to correct the guy. My wife was there, but she was taken aback by having two suddenly crying kids, and decided to hit the road.

    I don’t intend to have new rules imposed, and I don’t want the retail employees of the world to stop talking to my kids. I don’t want to get the Costco guy fired and couldn’t if I wanted to.

    The only thing — let me repeat myself: The Only Thing — I’d like to do is point out that if a child isn’t speaking clearly, there might be a reason for that. That’s it. I’m not looking for compensation, I’m not going to sue, I’m not going to throw a snit, make a scene, or cause a fuss. I just want to politely say what wasn’t said at the time, so that people might learn a little something. I cannot fathom why some of you are having difficulty with that.


  23. Posted June 28, 2007 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    Unfortunately, you’ve just discovered that, to some people, anyone who complains about anything on the internet ever is a spoiled brat who needs to be slapped down. Read some of the comments here and be amazed.


  24. Posted June 28, 2007 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    I think Jason not only lacks reading comprehension skills (Eric, your writing is nearly always crystal clear), but is also wrong on the facts. Isn’t Costco famous for paying a lot more than Wal-Mart? I really doubt the receipt checker is earning minimum wage at Costco.


  25. Posted June 28, 2007 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

    Hello Eric

    This is going to sound silly but, as someone else who has come over from The Consumerist, I want to apologize for the behavior of some of the more, um, thoughtless people to have visited you as a result of this being posted there.

    You and she had every right to be upset just as you were. I also think you are going about things in just the right manner.


  26. Walt
    Posted June 29, 2007 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    “Today, the receipt inspector made Alex say “Please” and “Thank you,” which is within the bounds of reason”

    Actually, I don’t think that’s even within the bounds of reason. If an aunt, uncle, teacher, neighbor, or any other non-stranger wants to turn a situation into a teachable moment, that’s fine. The stranger checking my receipt at the store? Overstepping his bounds, as far as I’m concerned. I can teach my child manners just fine, thanks. Even if I didn’t, it doesn’t make it any more his place to do it. Yes, any child should say please and thank you. That’s not the point. No one would think it’s reasonable for him to require a thank you from an adult customer. For the same reason, it’s not reasonable to require one from a child either.


  27. Posted June 29, 2007 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

    I’m with Walt on this. If you want to teach a child manners, make it your own child, not mine.


  28. Leon
    Posted July 7, 2007 at 2:48 am | Permalink

    Regarding Costco’s policy of checking receipts at the exit door:

    I’ve been a Costco employee for close to 8 years, and our policy of checking receipts is mutually beneficial, both to you and Costco. We check receipts in order to ensure the accuracy of our cashiers. The front end of any Costco can be a very chaotic place on a busy day, and our cashiers can sometimes make honest mistakes. The receipt check allows us to minimize loss and accounting errors, and keeps merchandise and membership prices low for you. Yes, a number of shoplifters get caught, however the door person’s main responsibility is not to weed out shoplifters.

    I hope this information helps.


  29. j-yo
    Posted July 21, 2007 at 12:15 am | Permalink

    Even though I check my receipts carefully before leaving any store, sometimes a rare error will slip by me (especially if I’m distracted by my kids) and I’ve had Costco door employees catch such errors and take steps to return to me any money I was overcharged. I have no problems with Costco checking receipts at the door — It’s a business, not a charity. The employees who check my receipts have always been pleasant and have never made me feel like a shoplifter.

    Eric, I feel badly for your family and what it went through. If you haven’t already done so, I would urge you to contact the management for that particular store and, without singling out the employee, let them know of this incident and request that they pass on the information to its employees. It would benefit all of them, not just the one employee involved, to know about this.


  30. Gus Will
    Posted July 23, 2007 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    Sorry to hear about your incident at Costco–there are a lot of jerk employees there from what I’ve seen. However, I am interested in finding people who have gotten sick from eating food from Costco–particularly seafood roadshow items or items from their deli. Anybody out there?


  31. Julia
    Posted July 23, 2007 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    This was a very sad story–sorry for you unfortunate experience at Costco.


  32. JustAnotherGuy
    Posted January 11, 2009 at 12:26 am | Permalink

    The problem is that Mr. Berlin is not seeing the forest. He’s seeing the trees. The issue is that they are performing search and seizure without a warrant. If they weren’t doing that, and if we didn’t allow them to do that, then nobody would talk to your retarded kid in the first place.

    The rest you can chalk up to a poor attempt at playfulness. He made the same mistake as asking a woman when the babies due- but more obscure in your case. I’m guessing he didn’t know your child was disabled.

    So back to the problem. They should not be searching your person at any point in time. If they stop you, walk around them. If they assault you, defend yourself in whatever measure it takes for you to be out of harms way. Costco owning a piece of land does not negate your Rights as a human being.


  33. rose
    Posted March 3, 2010 at 11:28 pm | Permalink

    this reminds me of walmart. my little cousin absolutley loves it when we leave because there is this friendly old man who gives her a sticker whenever we leave. well the old man retired and this tennage kid took his place.he looked at my cousin, who is severly bipolar, and held the sticker right were she couldnt reach it. so she climbed out of the basket and kicked his shin screamin,”THAT’S NOT NICE!!!!” i was so mad… he tried to sue us for it that made it worse … i hate people like that


  34. Chris
    Posted March 11, 2013 at 2:55 am | Permalink

    Give the guy at Costco a break. He didn’t know your sons condition. He’s obviously a idiot and made a mistake. Writing a letter will get management in trouble and they will promote the customer service person for being a idiot.

    Go shop somewhere else if this I what you do for fun. Nobody is checking the receipt at Walmart or the local Goodwill.

    Find something to do.


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