Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Why are some retail places retentive about proving your age?

Prompted by this story out of England, where supermarket staff refused to sell alcohol to a white-haired 72-year-old man, I thought I might give some background on why we ask for ID and why some cashiers are more firm about following policy than others. Because with Baal as my witness, I can see the Consumerist headline now - "Cold-blooded Cockney cashier denies good-time Gramps his booze!" Next on Sick Sad World!

Now, in the specific case above, they should have given the old coot his liquor - even if they had to brain him with a bottle and give him a
Cabernet Sauvignon enema. With a Turkey Blood (Wild Turkey & tabasco) chaser. Which is exactly what he deserved for being a contrary old fart. But enough about him.

Nearly everyone who works a register and is faced with the prospect of selling tobacco and alcohol ought to be very, very afraid. Why?

Because the federal government is watching you and will deliberately try to bust your Wal-Mart khaki-clad behind!

That's one of the single most vivid things I remember from the endless hours of computer training I did - a video of a cashier in a hurry who sold cigarettes to an underage teen. The cashier gets hauled into the office, is fired and taken to jail. A friend of mine who worked at a convenience store actually had that happen to him because he wasn't paying attention on a holiday weekend and sold a pack of Marlboro Lights to a kid that looked 25 but was really 16. The episode cost him his job and almost $4,000 in attorney fees and fines. They don't play.

Every single time anyone who does not look old enough to have fought at Normandy tries to buy tobacco or alcohol from me I feel an icy stab of fear grip my chest. "Is this the one? Are there agents watching? Is this a sting?" We've had the ID traps run at our store. Cashiers have been fired and arrested. I still get queasy trying to figure out,
"Now, what does the date thing on the register mean again?" Give me the mean people any day. Cops, the law, all that mess freaks me out. I need a Cthulu-serious nerve pill just thinking about it.

There's another thing we have to worry about too. "Service Evaluators" or what most people know as "mystery shoppers." Yes. Wal-Mart is worried about quality control. They are given a specific checklist of items to grade a transaction on, such as "Did the cashier greet you?" and "Did the cashier ask for identification if purchasing an age-restricted item?" I've seen some of the scorecards and watched cashiers get called on the carpet for "not being friendly" or not checking the ID on a credit card. One person actually put on the sheet "cashier did not smile enough." Because God knows no one is allowed to have a bad day after standing on their feet for nine hours.

I've been "mystery shopped" at Customer Service. If you know what sorts of questions they're supposed to ask, you can sort of "smell" them, I guess is the best word. They usually ask too many questions and wait to see if you follow specific company-dictated procedures, like taking down the information needed for a Code Adam (missing child).

I always try to be extra-friendly and remember to go slow, explain what I'm doing, smile and make eye contact frequently, use the person's name (they're supposed to buy something with a credit card so we have a chance to find out their name) and ask at the end of the transaction if there's anything else they need today.

What I'm trying to get at is "You never know who the person on the other side of the register is." I once asked a man for another form of identification because the address on his check and his driver license didn't match. He pulls out a badge. And then I see the gun.

OK. You're a sheriff's deputy. Cops don't list their home address on their checks for the safety of their family. The address on the checks is actually the local substation. I'm down with that. He actually thanked me for noticing and said that most people don't. But you never know.

What's my point? Not that I really have one. Lots of bad things can and could happen to cashiers who don't ask for the IDs of their customers. They don't know you from a four-legged Martian sand rat with with diseased fleas. Nor do they care. They do care about keeping their job.

If someone told you that your ability to put food on your table and gas in your car and clothes on your kids' backs depended on asking people to produce proof that they, I don't know, COMPLIED WITH FEDERAL LAW, and were legally able to purchase the products they wanted, don't you think you'd be asking "Could I please see your ID sir/ma'am" all day long too?

Welcome to the House of Wal. Do you want to return that?

39 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Now, in the specific case above, they should have given the old coot his liquor - even if they had to brain him with a bottle and give him a Cabernet Sauvignon enema. With a Turkey Blood (Wild Turkey & tabasco) chaser. Which is exactly what he deserved for being a contrary old fart. But enough about him."

And thats when I decided that your blog has just become a bitchfest that I no longer find amusing.

FARfetched said...

If it's so crazy important, you would think that the cashiers would… oh, you know… get paid more or something. It all goes the show the inverse relation between salary and job importance these days.

I don't mind getting carded when I'm buying beer (age 48). I've been carded, and I've been not carded; I think when the cashiers recognize me they skip the carding part.

Anonymous said...

"Next on Sick Sad World!"

Yet another reason you rock. I love me some Daria!

I don't know about florida, but down here if a customer has no ID, we must refuse the sale, old man or not. It's the law.
And if we so much as suspect it's a third party sale, everyone in the group must be carded. Just last week one of our cashiers saw a woman w/ two teenage boys w/ beer in her line. They handed her money. She carded them all. She became irate, but the boys just stayed quiet. Called the black cashier racist (you're doing this b/c we're black). She, ever the un-afraid cashier, quipped back "no sweetie I'm doing this b/c it's my job. You aren't worth losing it for. Besides, are you blind??? I'm blacker than you are!!"

Anybody that doesn't like getting carded can just move along. It's the freaking law. If you look younger than 40, bust it out. Consider it a compliment, cashier just said you look young.

Songbird said...

And thats when I decided that your blog has just become a bitchfest that I no longer find amusing.

Whatever, anonymous. That article really annoyed me. Is it perhaps a stupid policy when a 72-year-old is denied alcohol for refusing to show identification? Maybe. Did the old man have the right to think so? Sure.

But he has to get petulant about it, refuse to comply, whine to the press and demand an apology? He may be 72, but he really needs to grow up.

I've also seen a friend fired from a convenience store for forgetting to card. Fortunately it was an ID sting...the guy wasn't actually underage, so he was merely fired instead of also charged and fined.

You don't like the system? Complain to your lawmakers. Don't take it out on the working class folks who have to abide by it in order to bring a paycheck home at the end of the week.

Moranin said...

I worked in a super-yuppie Whole Foods a few years back, and for ID training the manager just told us stories of ID stings at other Whole Foods and the various tricks they'll try.

The one that sticks out in my memory is a group of 3 people who each went to different lines. It was pouring cats and dogs outside, and the undercover "shoppers" begged the various cashiers to not make them go get their IDs from the car in a thunderstorm. 2 of the 3 cashiers sold them the alcohol w/o an ID (in Virginia once you've asked for an ID you cannot sell the item without seeing it, even if you know they are not underage) were arrested.

For every five late 30's, mid 40's expensively facelifted customer who was flattered by being carded, I'd have one who flew off the handle at being asked for her ID which she invariably didn't have with her...come on, how did you drive your leather seated tank to the store without your driver's license?

I have no sympathy for someone who gets angry at a cashier who's just trying to not get arrested/fined for not obeying the law.

Laura said...

I am flabbergasted and almost offended when I am *not* carded when buying alcohol. Not because want testimony to my youth, but because if they're not carding me, my 20-year-old brother who is next in line is also likely not to be carded, and at that point, I feel like being the bitchy "I-have-done-your-job-recently" person and report the cashier to someone. I didn't. But I should have.

Austin said...

Back in my days of cashiering I was constantly worried about getting nailed for selling to a minor. I had plenty of awkward "Do I card this guy?" moments.

Now that I'm on the other side of the checkout, I try to sidestep these moments by handing the cashier my ID whether they ask for it or not. I could probably still pass for 19.

full.tang.halo said...

I'm so used to being carded going to the house of wal buying silver spray paint for work that my license is peram turned around in my wallet so that they can read the DOB, but I've noticed if I flip my ID open before they ask to see it, they dont even look at it....

Anonymous said...

OK. You're a sheriff's deputy. Cops don't list their home address on their checks for the safety of their family. The address on the checks is actually the local substation.

Ummm...Where did you get this bit of ridiculous misinformation? Sometimes you are such an unintelligent prick (ie: the old man comment).

I am in serious doubt that you hold another 'regular' full-time job. If your finances are constantly so strained, as you claim was the reason for taking on the Wal-Mart gig, why do you spend ridiculous money on expensive DVD's and what not? Maybe that's why you lament that you can't afford your rent or perhaps it's your avid barista addiction.

Newsflash: I don't think the barista's you drool over are 'digging' a 40-something yr old Wal-Mart worker who wears Dr Martins, Candie's glasses, subtle highlights in his hair (rather nicely though, I might add) and over-priced (albeit very nice looking & flattering) khaki's from Banana Republic/J Crew.

DolfanDad said...

suspicious anon post, either totally bs or this person knows bbc. Or a former barista??

btw bbc thanks for the post. I think its nice to remind everyone that these people are just doing their job. Take the ID as a compliment. In fact most of the time when I buy alcohol I hand my ID to them before they even ask. That way they don't have to worry about it.

Anonymous said...

Not the same anonymous, so flame-off.

I'm all about carding and such - so what if it takes another 3 freaking seconds to get out of there. Its like using a turn signal - I have no problem sacrificing 10-20 seconds TOTAL out of my day for others.

I also make it a point to thank a cashier who asks to see my ID after I use my *unsigned* credit card. It amazes me how often the cashier comes back with "thanks for thanking me, you'd be surprised how many people get mad when I ask". As a side note, they don't ask for ID nearly as much as they did just 1-2 years ago.

Anyway, you're fighting the good fight. Don't be lazy for a grand total of a few seconds each day.

Anonymous said...

"And thats when I decided that your blog has just become a bitchfest that I no longer find amusing." 5:08 AM

I too am less and less interested, you are starting to sound like our customers, God forbib.

Anonymous said...

Here in Arizona, the law says that EVERYONE under 26 must be carded. The law also says that if you sell to a minor without collecting and saving the ID data it's assumed you did it on purpose.

So, while I was working at the "House of Wal" (grin), I either slid the customer's ID's through the register or hand typed in the birthdate required. The register saved the info on the transaction record.

Gail said...

I jokingly complain (to other people, not the cashier) about getting carded for my bottle of wine when I'm buying 150 dollars worth of groceries. But, I don't really mind - I know they are just doing their job, and honestly, I do look young.

My boyfriend loves it when I get carded for drinks, because it makes him look like he's out with some sweet young thing. He's a goof.

Anonymous said...

If this country just got rid of these stupid age restrictions, it wouldn't be a problem. Customers wouldn't have to feel harassed, and cashiers wouldn't have to worry about going to JAIL for selling a 16-year-old some smokes.

What's worse is Wal-mart (supposedly) cards you for things that aren't even against the law - like video games. Probably to cover their ass in the event of a Columbine-type lawsuit, but it's still stupid as hell.

cortana said...

Some of it comes from small stores getting busted once, and signing consent decrees stating they will ID everyone who tries to buy anything that might be fun. Not a fun way to have to live, but it saves them a hell of a lot of fine the first time.

GrecoRoman said...

And again I ask...

WHERE IN THE HELL does Wal-Mart sell alcohol and where can I get me one?

Seriously, Wal-Mart sells alcohol? Not one within a 60 mile radius of my hometown does, and I live in that liberal bastion of Maryland.

Lucky bastards. beer at Wal-Mart. It's a wonder we haven't collapsed as a civilization yet.

Anonymous said...

Wal-Marts in Maryland can't sell alcohol. Just liquor stores and some c-stores.

Go to Virginia, they do. And you can even buy beer and wine at Rite Aid.

Anonymous said...

Checking credit-card ID on a signed
card has always been a pet - peeve.
It's against MasterCard and Visa
policy (discover allows it)....

Mastercard makes it easy to report...
http://www.mastercard.com/us/personal/en/contactus/merchantviolations.html
Visa makes it a little harder to report but (page 29) http://www.usa.visa.com/download/merchants/rules_for_visa_merchants.pdf?it=c|/merchants/index.html|Rules%20for%20Visa%20Merchants
is clear that you cant refuse a sale b/c you dont show id.

"When should you ask a cardholder for an official government ID? Although Visa
rules do not preclude merchants from asking for cardholder ID, merchants
cannot make an ID a condition of acceptance. Therefore, merchants cannot
refuse to complete a purchase transaction because a cardholder refuses to
provide ID. Visa believes merchants should not ask for ID as part of their regular
card acceptance procedures."

Beverly said...

see this is why i quit bartending. when it became my responsibility to determine whether an ID is fake or not, it stopped being worth the risk. even if their fake ID got em thru the door (manned by guys w/ very little training in scoping out fake IDs btw), if i still didn't catch the fake - it was my ass on the line for serving. The other reason i quit bartending was because i was expected to become the random drunk's psychologist and determine whether he/she has had too much. Well hell - that's what throwing up is for - to tell you that you've had enough. I figure if your dumb ass keeps buying drinks after a dozen cuervo or jagers, well then that's your fault not mine.

it's no fun to face down some damned alcoholic that could drink paris hilton, lindsey lohan and brittney all three under the table and tell him that he's had too much to drink. and when they passed the law that bartenders can be fined and JAILED for letting some drunk schmuck drive home - i said piss on it. the money is so not worth that. how about some personal responsibility here? when did it become the bartender or waitresses job to mother your dumb ass?

GrecoRoman said...

"Checking credit-card ID on a signed
card has always been a pet - peeve.
It's against MasterCard and Visa
policy (discover allows it)...."

Why would you NOT want someone to ask for ID with a credit card???? If someone has stolen your signed credit card, do you really want them to be able to use it that easily? I get pissed when they DON'T ask for ID.

Anonymous said...

"Why would you NOT want someone to ask for ID with a credit card???? If someone has stolen your signed credit card, do you really want them to be able to use it that easily? I get pissed when they DON'T ask for ID."

I have zero liability for non-authorized charges. The
merchant is FORBIDDEN to refuse
the sale via their merchant agreement. Visa runs those "faster money" ads for a reason... In and out....

Boringscreenname said...

I don't mind being asked for ID, I'm 22, look younger, and I'm short so I'm always ID'ed. Once at the House of Wal I was carded for buying an R rated DVD. Cashier looked at my ID then refused to accept it, so the person I was with just showed his ID and they accepted it. I was 21 when it happened.

Anonymous said...

In regards to beer at Wal Mart, don't get all excited.

Down here in Texas they sell beer, but its dispicable (sp?) how they do it. "Premium" 6-packs like Newcastle and Bass go for normal grocery store prices ($7-8). Well your cliche Wally-world shopper goes straight for the Bud light/MGD/etc. How much is it? JUST AS MUCH as the "premium" beers. Its sad, but its also pretty obvious who they're preying on.

And the few times I've been in there to buy a 6-pack before the beer curfew (another post entirely) people are buying the relatively overpriced "cheep" beer.

Anonymous said...

Sick Sad World? Why am I not surprised you're a Daria fan too?!

Love the post!

Anonymous said...

When I was at walmart for about two weeks when I heard a 40 something year old ask a teenager what kind of cigarettes she wanted. When she came up and asked for them, I looked at the girl and said "I need to see your ID please"

The woman started talking to me like I was a five year old "You...don't...need...her...ID,...you...need...mine...because...I...am...buying...them."

I responded as though I didn't notice and explained sweetly that because she was buying them for the girl, I needed both IDs and that it was called a third party sale

She got ticked off and demanded a manager; I flashed my light on and a COS came over, listened to both sides and then forced me to complete the sale.

I know now that I should have signed off and told the COS to sign in and do it herself if she wanted to break the law. Being a newbie though, I didn't want to lose my job.

Debo Blue said...

I'll NEVER tire of you, BBC.

You rock!!

Daniel P. Schreber said...

This isn't exactly behind the counter, but more like the encounter. I was recently accosted outside my local mini mart by a kid wanting me to buy alcohol for him.

I felt an immediate sense of panic. Is this a sting? Is he really underage?

I remembered being 16 and getting someone to buy us beer. But that was before these zero tolerant times when good Beer Samaritans get busted.

I declined, wished him luck and kept walking feeling a little nostalgic and guilty

Cliff O'Neill said...

I just discovered this blog. Love it.

(Anonymous posters can be such jerks sometimes.)

Worked in retail most of my adult life until just recently. Had to ask for ID for any credit card sale, but (per credit card companies' policies) could not refuse the transaction if it was refused.

Still, that didn't prevent a boatload of entitled rich people from pulling the "don't you know who I am and how much money I make?" crap. (DC 'burbs are awash in these folks.)

I found it ironic that when I had to ask Jena Bush for ID for an iPod accessory she was buying for daddy she was perfectly calm and accommodating.

Anonymous said...

i've noticed a trend toward asking me for ID lately. I'm 60 y/o and i think its kind of fun. it takes me back to the good ol' days when it was all about getting around the fact that i was too young. if you're getting upset about being asked for ID, then you're wayyyy too stuffy.

Kasia said...

Odd. When I worked retail - granted it was 10 years ago - the store I worked at did refuse transactions if the cashier asked for ID and the customer refused to produce it. It was a computer store, and apparently they'd had a few too many people buying systems with stolen cards.

What echoes in my mind were that most of the cases in which we asked for ID were on unsigned cards (hello, the person who steals your card can just sign the back if you've left it blank!) and when the signature clearly didn't match. Sometimes customers would intentionally sign all crazy just to see if we were looking.

Anyway. The other thing I remember was that American Express cards were not transferable. Which means that if you and your spouse have a joint AmEx account, you must use your own card. Doesn't matter that you're both on the account. Susie can't use John's card, and John can't use Susie's card. Every time I called someone on that they'd demand I call AmEx. "Why, certainly." Pull out phone, call AmEx, explain the situation, put the customer on the phone. Never failed - AmEx told 'em the same thing.

Anonymous said...

Here in NM, it..is..a...FELONY..to sell to someone underage. FELONY, key word. Good reason to card everyone who comes thru the line. Back in the 7-11 day, I once carded a guy who flashed a badge at me, my response "Security guard? I still need valid ID." He was a Secret Service agent, and really pissed when I wouldn't take his ID. Like I cared...

Cheers, Mi3ke

Anonymous said...

I used to work at a gas station about ten years back...I solved my carding the obvious over 21 croud "dilemma" by posting a home made sign that read "If you look younger then 147 I'm going to card you". People found humor in my sign and I rarely had people complain when being carded. My boss liked the sign and posted sings on all the coolers.

Blog Gently said...

Great that there is actually someone else out there who cares about the rules - like checking ID properly. Hardly a day goes by without my gal getting someone in her store thinking ID rules for getting a mailbox or notary apply to them. She always tells me she tells people she can't do that (break the rules), but I always say the way to phrase it is "what you are asking me to do is ILLEGAL, I will not commit a CRIME for you or anyone else."

Unfortunately, as some anonymous posters have said, there are many who just don't give a damn or don't get paid enough to give a damn - it is sad that you might have to pay people to give a damn, but basic economic theory predicts that many people will turn a blind eye and take the money if a) they think they wont get caught, b) there is more money in it than not doing it.

Anonymous said...

Good for you for checking ID. It pisses me that people don't check ID for alchohol/tobacco sales, or with credit card purchases.

Anonymous said...

"Good for you for checking ID. It pisses me that people don't check ID for alchohol/tobacco sales, or with credit card purchases."

With Alcohol and tobacoo sales they SHOULD and are required by state law. TN has a law that you check for ALL sales of Alcohol... HOWEVER the merchant AGREED in their merchant agreemnet with Visa
/ Mastercard to NOT require ID.
It annoys me when they dont do what they promised VISA (ahm "Faster Money") and require it as a condition of sale.

Pierre said...

ID'ing regardless of how old you look is a stupid policy... no matter what some minimum wage cashier says.

I make it a point to be an asshole whenever someone asks me for ID. More than an asshole. I get agressive and resist pulling it out as long as possible. Some (weak) people just cave and sell to me without it.

I was visiting my mother last thanksgiving. I stopped in the local supermarket to buy some beer with my fiance. They told me I couldnt buy beer because my fiance didnt have her ID. I was buying the beer. I grabbed that cashier by the neck and slamed his head into his register.

I walked out with my beer with no money changing hands.

Keep that in mind if you're some punk cashier who thinks you have the authority to mess with my day. I will fuck you up.

Anonymous said...

That wouldn't happen to be "Lucky Pierre", would it?

Anonymous said...

I work as a walmart cashier in Oklahoma and one of our newer policies (not even two years old yet) is having to ID everyone. But the bad part is you can't even override it, like if it's someone in their 70s. When someone buys alcohol or tobacco, the register prompts you for a birthdate; it won't let you override it. You have to put a birthdate in, and all cashiers are required to look at their DL. This really sucks and is a pain for me, because I've had customers get pretty snotty for being asked for their ID, and in a few cases, they've refused to buy anything, just because they're being asked to whip out their ID. I don't know why my Walmart decided to do this; I don't know of any other walmart that does, but it's a pain for me.