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?