Here’s Why Costco Actually Checks Your Receipt at the Exit

published Nov 8, 2018
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For most of my life, the guy checking receipts at the Costco exit was a well-known quasi-celebrity — as you walked up, he would guess your total just by looking at your cart before you handed him your receipt on the way out the door. He was very good — and is very missed, since he left for warmer climes.

But if you assumed Tom and the folks like him at your local store that check your receipt were looking to make sure that you hadn’t stolen anything, Kate Bernot at the Takeout is here to disabuse you of the notion.

It turns out, she explains, that the receipt checkers aren’t there to verify that you’re not stealing from Costco, but more to protect Costco from accidentally stealing from you: they’re checking for cashier errors. She quotes one article where a former employee says, “We weren’t trained to catch shoplifting, we were trained to make sure that people were not being overcharged. During the time I spent receipt checking I probably caught well over $1,000 in overcharges.”

As Bernot points out, the receipt checkers don’t really ruffle through the cart — certainly there’s all sorts of little packages (or as little as Costco packages can be) hiding in the bottom of boxes or under your 1,700 rolls of toilet paper and three cases of Sauvignon Blanc. So it makes sense that they don’t actually think they’re going to find anything hiding as they look at your receipt. Instead, they’re checking for the employee errors — double charges, mostly.

When they find the error, she reports, it gets stored in the system, the cashier gets talked to, it all gets noted. The main point is to improve the experience for the customer, not to catch them doing something wrong. But don’t let that inspire you to try to lift a 12-pack of deodorant the next time you stroll out: “Shoplifting is caught before people ever reach the door,” an employee reports.