Yes please. I'd like my receipt.

  • Patrick Oladimeji
Patrick Oladimeji

I consider myself a pretty chilled person but supermarkets often get me stressed. A few years ago, an environmentally conscious friend of mine said to me: "I really like that shop XYZ now allows you the option of not printing out a receipt. I think they should remove the need for receipts all together." I remember thinking: "Nah. You can't take away receipts. Society is not ready for that."

People who find themselves in a minority community change their day-to-day behaviours to avoid reinforcing society's biases and stereotypes. A lot of these behavioural changes are hidden from people outside the communities. This is in no way an attempt to imply that the  experiences I share in this article are common to many. I have no idea. I am a black man in the UK. I acknowledge that people are different and there are different challenges around the world.

These days it is common when at the till of a supermarket to be asked : "Would you like a receipt?" My response to this question depends on a few things. Firstly, is this question being asked by an attendant? Or is it being asked by a self-checkout bot. If the question is posed by an attendant, are we sufficiently close to the exit? This proximity is important to allow the attendant easily clarify any potential misunderstandings that might ensue if a security tag in my purchase sets off the alarm and a security guard decides to ask for my receipt. You would think I set off the alarms a lot. I actually don't. However if I walk out of a store at the same time as someone who is not black and the alarm goes off, I am more likely to be stopped and searched. I dread these situations.

If I am at a self-checkout till,  the number of items I'm purchasing also influence whether or not I opt for a receipt. When buying more than a couple of items, I'd be opting for a receipt.

I started thinking a bit more about this after I went to the local WHSmith supermarket to buy a pack of sweets. I paid the attendant with my contactless card.  Since I was close to the exit, I bought a single item and thanks to modern day banking, I had a transaction notification on my phone that matched my purchase, I opted out of getting the receipt. Shortly after stepping out of the shop, my wife called  to ask if I could pick up something else from the shop. I don't have a receipt for the bag of sweets I'm wielding and no, I'm not confident enough to walk back into the shop with a bag of sweets I've just paid for. Even if I'm lucky enough to meet the same attendant at the till, it would be unfair to expect them to remember the transaction. The most reasonable course of action was to go home, drop my bag of sweets and return to the supermarket to purchase the other item. Lucky for me, home was less than 10 minutes walk away.

On a separate trip to the local supermarket, I went through the self-checkout and got my receipt when asked if I wanted one. I was grocery shopping for the week. As I wheeled the shopping cart out of the store the alarms went off. Oops! I waited for a few seconds because I was not sure what to do. Since no one approached me I carried on walking towards the main exit where I was confronted by a security guard. He asked if I set off the alarm, I said: "I think so." He then asked if I had any steak in my trolley to which I answered yes. I presented my receipt on request and he let me go. He appeared to be checking that I had paid for the steaks. Good thing I opted to print the receipt.

I spent sometime to reflect on the alternate scenario where I opted not to print the receipt and the outcome is not very pleasant. I could show him the notifications from my mobile banking app that I did pay some amount of money to the supermarket just now. Sadly that does not show that I am entitled to the steaks I bought. The statements are not itemised. Perhaps he'd have to take me back to the tills to scan all the items and check it against the amount on my app? Maybe customer service can help re-print the receipts? But what about other shoppers observing my interaction with the security guard? What stories are they telling themselves about the scenario before their eyes? Would they realise they actually don't know anything about what is going on? Would they choose to make up an unpleasant explanation about what they saw? Is the security guard properly trained to respond fairly to this scenario?

I do not feel this way when I visit a store that provides a bag at the till. I think it is because I feel the bag is a token that signals onlookers that I have been through a process that clears me from any potential misunderstandings that might arise from failures in other parts of the system. I am not a security guard so I don't know if any of these have an effect on how they react to alarms.

I don't have very much faith in a system that portrays a race with a higher amount of suspicion than others. As a result I change my behaviour. There are countless other seemingly innocuous changes people make to their lives when performing mundane tasks like going to the supermarket. Most of this happens internally to each individual and it inevitably has a compounding effect on quality of life and interactions with society. I am constantly thinking about how society perceives my actions especially when those actions have a chance of an outcome that reinforces a negative stereotype.

Thank you for reading. Remember that you probably don't have all the context when you interact with people outside your immediate households. Be slow to making judgements and no matter what your individual experiences are, try not to project it on other people.


I’m publishing this as part of 100 Days To Offload. You can join in yourself by visiting https://100daystooffload.com.

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