Wal-Mart Thinks We’re All Criminals

I am not a crook.

Just as a rule, I don’t break laws. That may put me in the minority, especially if you consider traffic violators to be lawbreakers (by the way, the days when cars will automatically drive us where we need to be cannot get here fast enough for me. I firmly believe that driving, like the internet, somehow brings out the worst in people just by its very nature), but I take some pride in being a guy who follows rules, does what’s meant to be done, and by and large and as often as I can, considers the people around him when making a decision.

Despite all this, and despite the fact that I look about as likely to go on a crime spree as to spontaneously break into a ballet dance, Wal-Mart and its subsidiaries think I’m a criminal.

I mean, they must, right? Because I can’t exit their establishment with any amount of goods in my possession without displaying my receipt. It’s been that way at Sam’s Club for a while, but today it happened at the regular old Wal-Mart as well.

Yeah, I know, here I go again with the first-world problems, and this is me making a big gripe over a really minuscule inconvenience, but I’m not so sure it’s minuscule.

Let me be clear: I don’t mind proving that I bought and paid for the things I’m carrying out of the store. That’s fine. What I mind is being detained (let’s not split hairs here, you get stopped on your way out the door while they “check your receipt”) for no other reason than that the store has to double-check and make sure I’m not stealing from them.

Because that’s what they’re doing. There’s really no other way around it. Checking your receipt at the exit isn’t designed to make sure you have the everything you paid for, it isn’t designed to safeguard the nutritional value of the food you’re buying for your family, it isn’t even designed to create jobs for retirees and veterans — that’s just a byproduct (though the fact that they have to take jobs like this is a subject for another post, probably too depressing for me to cover here). No, the business of checking your receipt is designed to ensure that you aren’t walking out with stuff you didn’t pay for.

In other words, that person at the door is there to say to you, “let me make sure you didn’t forget to pay for something,” which is another way of saying, “let’s make sure you aren’t a dirty, stuff-taking thief,” all while they (hopefully) smile at you and (sometimes) wish you a nice day.

And I get it. People steal stuff. Some people steal a lot of stuff. The whole self-checkout thing is throwing a wrench into the works, whether it’s the way forward or not, and there have to be some safeguards in place to make sure people aren’t taking advantage. A company’s within their rights to protect their property through reasonable means (reasonable, I guess, would be an action short of shooting you in the kneecap if you accidentally stuff a bottle of salad dressing into your pocket because your kid started having a fit in the store and you needed both hands on him to wrangle him and usher him out of the store in a hurry, forgetting to pay for the bottle of salad dressing in the process, NOT THAT THAT’S EVER HAPPENED TO ANYBODY AROUND HERE *whistles*), and having a person there to check what you’re walking out of the door with certainly isn’t an invasion of privacy or a denial of your human rights. I’m not about to stage a sit-in because a low-wage employee came at me with a highlighter. But does that mean that the company has to operate under the assumption that everybody is a criminal?

It makes me feel icky about shopping there. It’s hard to look past the subtext: “we check everybody’s receipt because everybody is potentially a criminal.” I don’t care how nice the shopping experience is otherwise (and let’s be clear, I’m not saying it is — Sam’s Club is routinely home to the longest and slowest lines I’ve ever seen in retail, and Wal-Mart is… well, let’s just say there’s an entire website dedicated to the ridiculous/sad/terrifying/I-don’t-want-to-live-on-this-planet-anymore experience that is shopping at your local Wal-Mart), the fact that this retailer is silently accusing me of petty theft every time I pass through their doors kinda makes me not want to shop there.

So, for the most part I don’t. Trips to Sam’s and Wally World are few and far between for us these days, for this among other reasons. But every time I check out, and I see people blithely handing over their receipts, I have to wonder if anybody is really thinking about what’s going on there, if they really consider the fact that the retailer they’re giving their hard-earned dollars to silently and discreetly considers them a possible thief just by virtue of having bought something there.

And there’s the fargo’ed up thing. If you walk out ostensibly empty-handed, you don’t get stopped. So I — having just stood in line for fifteen minutes waiting for a dead-in-the-eyes twenty-something to ring up my economy-sized jar of pickles and twenty-pound sack of potatoes and shambling toward my car while carrying a baby in one hand and holding the hand of my three-year-old in the other, and pushing the cart with my third hand OH WAIT I DON’T HAVE A THIRD HAND, I’m doing all this with only the two hands I was born with — I get stopped to have my receipt checked. But the guy who came in, stuffed a couple of fishing rods down his pants legs, a few astonishingly priced shirts under his armpits, a bunch of grapes under his hat and a half dozen batteries up his ass, and then walked out empty-handed because he “didn’t find what he was looking for” doesn’t get smiled at, doesn’t get a highlighter waved in his direction, and in fact goes on to rob the very store that’s giving me such a hard time for shopping there with an ease I can only dream of.

This is our world. Wal-Mart thinks we’re all crooks, but man, just look at those prices! I guess they can think what they want…

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