Warehouse Club Time Wasters & Lies

We’re Sam’s Club members and just before Thanksgiving, I stopped in to quickly return something. I was glad I hadn’t bought anything that day, because the line to get OUT of the store was an incredible sixteen carts long.

Both Sam’s and Costco require customers exiting to have their receipts checked by store employees by the door. I always felt that this practice was ineffective and a big waste of time for their customers. The employees at the door seem to rarely look at what is actually in the cart and merely create a bottleneck when people are leaving. There is nothing sold in those stores that isn’t sold at other stores like Target or Walmart, is there?

Imagine my surprise when I saw this curious investigative article in Money magazine that claims “the real reason” they check receipts is to help customers in case they were “accidentally charged twice for the same purchase” or check for “missed promotions”. Wait, what?

Yes, Money magazine, Sam’s & Costco are all on record claiming that the exit door/receipt check bottleneck is done for the customer’s benefit, even going as far as to say “It’s an opportunity to ask them if they found everything they were looking for, and if they have everything they need—but it’s also a chance to make sure their transaction went smoothly, and the cashier didn’t accidentally ring up anything twice.” They are just being extra friendly, I guess.

In fact, they expressly say the ‘Exit Door Greeters’ are NOT there to help with loss prevention. “Trust me, we’re not loss prevention, we have loss prevention in the store and that’s not us. We’re literally just trying to make sure our cashiers do the job right.” They positioned the activity as one of the many “benefits” of belonging to their warehouse club. Despite this, spokespeople from both companies acknowledge that their membership agreements require you to show your receipt if asked when exiting the store.

Readers of the Money magazine article called BS in their comments. They noted that the exit greeter rarely actually ‘greets’ anyone, that if duplicate charges happened it would be easy for the customer to notice that at the register before paying, and that no other store seems to think it is important to have this job (including Sam’s parent stores, Walmart). That’s been my experience, too.

I even went back to Sam’s this past week decided to check out the situation for myself. First, I watched the person with the cart in front of me. There were probably 20+ things in their cart and there was no way the exit greeter could have counted them as quickly as she glanced toward them and ‘approved’ the receipt with a highlighter swipe. I only had three things and when I asked her why they check the receipts at Sam’s Club, she honestly stated it was “simply to prevent theft”. She said once she caught someone with “$600 in electronics stuffed into a suitcase”. She didn’t give me any fairytale story about her being positioned there to chat with me, help me with promotions, or catch errant scans by the cashiers. She just swiped my receipt with her highlighter and off I went (without even a thank you).

As a former marketing devil, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by corporate double-speak, but in this case, I was surprised to what lengths they would go to cover up for an everyday loss management approach. Besides, you would think they would even want potential shoplifters to know they were watching what people exit the store with carefully, wouldn’t you?

After all of this investigation, I’m back where I started with Sam’s Club and Costco. The shopping experience is terrible in these stores and made worse by their loss prevention “exit greeter” scheme. It strikes me as very ineffective and a time bottleneck for which every customer pays the price. Something to consider when your next $55 membership fee is due.

Are the prices at warehouse clubs worth the in-store bother to you?

Image Credit: MSNBC.com, Wikipedia

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