Why Does Costco Check Receipts When People Leave the Store?

Shopping at Costco isn’t quite like shopping at other stores. For one, you need a membership before you can even step through the doors. Plus, the stores are absolutely massive. The average Costco is 144,500 square feet, according to Cheapism, or roughly the size of a New York City block.

Then there are the little quirks of shopping at Costco, like the fact that if you’re paying with plastic, the store only accepts Visa credit cards. (Debit cards are also accepted.) Or the receipt checkers. As anyone who’s ever visited a Costco knows, these are the employees who stand guard at the exits, looking over your receipt before you leave the store. But why does Costco check your receipt before you leave? Let’s find out.

Costco checks receipts for two reasons

Customers shop at Costco | Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

On its website, Costco notes that it is “standard practice” to check everyone’s receipt when they leave the store. They do this for two reasons.

The first has to do with inventory control. The receipt checkers want to make sure that cashiers are correctly scanning all the items in your cart. The second reason is to make sure that you’re not overcharged or undercharged for any of your items.

One former Costco employee on Quora said it was far more common for the checkers at the exit to discover receipt errors than to catch would-be shoplifters in the act.

“Surprisingly, in my 12 years working at Costco, the receipt checkers prevented theft at the door by checking a receipt a grand total of zero times,” he wrote. “They did, however, discover a discrepancy on a receipt about two times an hour. Either an overcharge (customer paid for one item twice) or an undercharge (customer didn’t pay for an item).” Cashier error was usually to blame

David, another Costco employee, had a similar experience, he explained to Consumerist. He noted that the receipt policy is “really not just to stop people from stealing. I hardly ever saw people that had items that had not been paid for. Literally maybe once or twice in a month of working the door. We would catch hundreds of dollars a week in overcharges, though.”

Do you have to show your Costco receipt?

shopping at costco
People shop at a Costco store. |  Spencer Platt/Getty Images

While Costco has good reasons for wanting to check your receipt before you leave the warehouse – including possibly saving you money – some people don’t like the practice. For them, having your cart eyeballed by an employee after you’ve already paid is insulting and implies you’re a criminal.

However, if you want to keep your Costco membership, you have to show your receipt. The requirement is clearly spelled out in the store’s membership terms and conditions. And the chain is within its rights to inspect shoppers’ receipts and carts before they leave the store. While discriminatory receipt checks are not allowed, a blanket policy that applies to all shoppers is OK. (Some stores that do random receipt checks have been accused of racial profiling.)

While most Costco shoppers abide by the policy, even if they don’t like it, confrontations with receipt checkers aren’t unheard of. An Oregon man named Timothy Wells broke his leg when he got into a fight with a Costco employee after trying to leave the store without showing his receipt. He sued the store for $610,000, but a jury awarded him nothing.

While chances are you won’t get into a physical fight if you don’t show your receipt at Costco, you could have your membership revoked if you refuse to abide by the store’s policies. Unless you’re willing to lose out on the ability to score those sweet Costco deals, we suggest showing your receipt when asked.

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