It's a form of retail purgatory.
You stand in line at a cash register to make a purchase at a store, but before you are allowed to exit said establishment, you have to show your receipt to a store associate who has to mark a line through it.
It's an annoying practice, not to mention an insulting one. There have been days when I have rolled my eyes and stalked right past the worker with the marker. Receipt checking happens more in certain neighborhoods than in others and therein lies the proverbial rub.
That's why I've got to give it to Will Mega, a longtime West Philly resident who complained so loudly about the times it happened to him last month that Lowe's Home Improvement has temporarily suspended the practice in stores nationwide.
"…We have suspended our receipt checking practice nationwide until we can fully review our process," said Ashley N. Glasser, a Lowe's spokeswoman, in an email.
The policy apparently varied from store to store, and that's what has Mega ticked off.
Although the practice is common in certain neighborhoods, it came to a head for Mega on Memorial Day weekend after he purchased a grill at the Lowe's at 52nd Street in West Philly. As he attempted to leave the store, Mega was stopped by a clerk who asked to see his receipt. If you know anything about Mega, a onetime political candidate and the first cast member evicted from the CBS reality show Big Brother, then you know he doesn't suffer fools, as the saying goes.
"I told her, 'You just watched the entire exchange, I am not giving you a receipt. You can ask the cashier if I paid for my item.' As I proceeded to walk past her, she angrily raised her voice and said, 'I don't see what the problem is, I just asked for your receipt!' I responded, 'I don't have to show you my receipt … ,' " he wrote in an email.
When Mega, who also is a dean of students at Sankofa Freedom Academy Charter School, complained to a store manager, he was told that in certain locations it was Lowe's policy to check customers' receipts before they leave.
The following day, the 45-year-old educator, whose given name is Hiram Will Mega Ashantee, had a similar encounter when he returned to the store, this time to pick up a toilet and a vanity he had prepurchased. Once again, it became an issue when he challenged employees' requests to see his receipt. Mega videotaped as a store manager explained that Lowe's policy was to examine customers' receipts in "high theft stores."
"So, I'm being treated like a criminal because somebody else committed a crime," Mega said.
On a third visit to Lowe's that weekend, he went to a store in Havertown, where he purchased five gallons of ceiling paint and a key. Once again, he videotaped. When he asked if he needed to show his receipt at the door, a worker responded: "This is the white 'hood. We don't do that here."
Mega, who is African American, has filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.
Meanwhile, Glasser, the Lowe's spokeswoman, said in an email: "Mr. Mega's experience has compelled us to review how we verify customers' purchases and evaluate similar practices across the retail industry. It is always our intent to make everyone feel welcome while shopping at Lowe's. We have personally reached out to Mr. Mega to understand more about his experience and continue the dialogue."
Smart move, Lowe's. If April's Starbucks incident during which two black men were arrested for nothing taught us anything, it's that companies fare far better when they reevaluate policies that make customers feel marginalized.
Jeffrey Boles, a professor at Temple University's Fox School of Business, pointed out that "this receipt checking upon exit really can aggravate customers and antagonize them and make everyone feel like a suspect unnecessarily. It's fraught with controversy and I don't think it's a good business practice, because it alienates a lot of customers."
As for Mega, he wants Lowe's to permanently ban the practice of checking customers' receipts and for the new chief executive at Lowe's to apologize. Stay tuned.